The United Space Alliance, which manages the computers aboard the International Space Station in association with NASA, has announced that the Windows XP computers aboard the ISS have been switched to Linux. “We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable.”
In specific, the “dozens of laptops” will make the change to Debian 6. These laptops will join many other systems aboard the ISS that already run various flavors of Linux, such as RedHat and Scientific Linux.
Given that most scientific research is being done on Linux, the switch away from Microsoft products was the right choice for NASA and the United Space Alliance. Scientific applications, which can be decades old in some instances and include embeded systems running instrumentation, need stability and long-term consistency to function properly. Engineers and developers can’t be limited to waiting on big software vendors for needed changes and security patches.
With the switch to Linux NASA and the United Space Alliance will be able to take over the modification and customization of the ISS software and move away from dependence on outside vendors.