Recently the manager of the Space Operations Computing (SpOC) group announced that due to issues of reliability and customization NASA would be migrating all of the ISS workstation PC’s and laptops away from Microsoft and to Linux. This follows in the footsteps of NASA having already adopted Linux for ground control, servers on the ISS, and even R2, the first humanoid robot in space. The R2 Robonaut is being developed and tested to help astronauts at the ISS by performing dangerous or tedious tasks for them. As a long time Linux user, I couldn’t be happier to hear about this news. The fact that they moved to Linux because they required a “stable platform” is what I find the best of all. Especially since I HATE Microsoft Windows with a passion.
Given the reason for the OS Swap, I am unsurprised that ISS laptops and workstations are to have the extremely well-tested Debian 6 installed on them. There are also RHEL and Centos builds at NASA used in other applications. A large community of Linux users already exists at NASA, as the ground control computers have been using the Linux OS for many years. That makes sense of course; you wouldn’t want to get a “blue screen of death” during the takeoff or landing of a mission.
Keith Chuvala, the manager of the Space Operations Computing (SpOC) group, had the following to say about NASA’s adoption of Linux:
“Things really clicked, after we came to understand how Linux views the world, the interconnectedness of how one thing affects another. You need that worldview. I have quite a bit of Linux experience, but to see others who were really getting it, that was exciting.”
Of course, the crew of the ISS is currently most familiar with how the Microsoft Windows client works. They will need to be retrained to learn how to use Linux. NASA will be consulting with the Linux Foundation to receive the training needed to bring the astronauts and specialists of the ISS affected by the change. NASA is learning through experimentation and use that no other Operating System is as reliable, customizable, or flexible as Linux. Go Penguin Power!