THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION (ISS) will remove Microsoft Windows from its onboard laptops and run Linux exclusively.
The ISS carries a number of laptops that astronauts use to perform various functions and carry out certain aspects of their missions. NASA had until recently run Microsoft's Windows operating system on these laptops, however looking for something that is "stable and reliable", it opted to dump Windows in favour of Linux with the Linux Foundation helping to provide training.
Keith Chuvala of United Space Alliance, a NASA contractor that is involved in maintaining the laptops used by astronauts said, "We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable - one that would give us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust or adapt, we could."
Chuvala reportedly has moved from Scientific Linux, a Red Hat Enterprise Linux derived distribution that is maintained by CERN and Fermilab, to Debian 6. He said the laptops on board the ISS might be used by only six people but those people have "very specific requirements and duties".
That the ISS runs Linux is not particularly surprising, especially given the widespread use of Linux in the scientific community, but that it took this long to dump Windows raises a few eyebrows. That said, NASA has been using Linux on its missions for some time, including on its Mars Curosity rover, suggesting that the delay in shifting over to Linux on ISS was more to do with porting legacy applications from Windows.
While Chuvala's team had to spend time porting legacy applications to Linux, it is certain that his team will save a lot of time by not having to worry about security vulnerabilities. µ