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Why Is The International Space Station Switching From Windows To GNU/Linux?

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First Posted: May 12, 2013 09:52 AM EDT
The sun shines above the Earth's horizon with the International Space Station in the foreground in this photo taken by spacewalker Ron Garan during the final spacewalk while a shuttle is docked to the station in this photo provided by NASA and taken July 12, 2011.

The sun shines above the Earth's horizon with the International Space Station in the foreground in this photo taken by spacewalker Ron Garan during the final spacewalk while a shuttle is docked to the station in this photo provided by NASA and taken July 12, 2011. Credit:Reuters

The computers aboard the International Space Station are being switched from Windows XP to GNU/Linux, according to an announcement from the United Space Alliance, the organization that manages the computers in association with NASA.

"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," United Space Alliance contractor, manager of the Space Operations Computing (SpOC) for NASA and leader of the ISS's Laptops and Network Integration Teams Keith Chuvala said. "So if we needed to patch, adjust, or adapt, we could."

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More specifically, the computers will be using Debian 6. Other versions of GNU/Linux are run aboard the International Space Station, including Scientific Linux and RedHat. After this transition, there should be no more computers running Windows.

One benefit of the transition to GNU/Linux is that it will essentially make the computers immune to future viruses, which have infected the computers to at least a small degree. In 2008, the W32.Gammima.AG worm was brought aboard the International Space Station via a Russian cosmonaut's laptop.

The upgraded computers belong to the International Space Station's OpsLAN, which is used for day-to-day activities.

GNU/Linux is used for a number of scientific devices, including Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space. The humanoid was delivered on Space Shuttle Discovery's final 2011 mission. The goal of the humanoid is to see how well humans and robots can work together in space. Robonaut 2 would eventually perform basic tasks and also potentially riskier operations such as space walks.

 

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