International Space Station Goes Open Source, Dumps Windows XP for Debian
May 10, 2013 11:19 AM
Linux operating system is expected to improve security, stability
Microsoft Corp.'s (
) Windows XP is among the company's most beloved products. Generally lauded for its stability, compatibility, and security since Service Pack 3 rolled out, the aging operating system has
still been hanging around
in many enterprise deployments -- including the International Space Station (ISS). But the ISS and others have found out the hard way of late that slower patching and a
phase-out of support
have left the once unbeatable OS a major security risk.
I. Phasing Out XP, Moving to the Penguin
Keith Chuvala of
United Space Alliance
, a contractor who handles much of the ISS operations, decided enough is enough after a 2008 security breach; he's switching the "dozens of laptops" aboard the ISS to Debian 6, a Linux operating system.
Linux has been used on the ISS systems since its 1998 launch (see
this 2001 article
, for example) and in NASA ground system since its inception. However, most laptops used aboard the station for day-to-day activities like viewing stock inventory, controlling scientific experiments, or checking the current station location -- a cluster dubbed "OpsLAN" -- ran Windows.
But NASA received a wakeup call in 2008 when a Russian cosmonaut inadvertently
brought a W32.Gammima.AG worm aboard
his Windows laptop, which infected the other laptops onboard, requiring painstaking cleanup. While Linux machines are
not immune to worms and other malware
, their small market share and
(thanks to the open source community) have made Linux distributions more secure than their Windows counterparts from a practical perspective.
An ISS crew member mans one of the station's laptops. [Image Source: NASA]
Mr. Chuvala comments, "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."
for the project from
the Linux Foundation
, a non-profit consortium founded in 2007 by the merger of two key Linux evangelist groups. The Linux Foundation -- whose mission is to promote the U.S. of Linux worldwide -- is training engineers at space agencies and potential astronauts on the new operating system and how to develop for it.
Dominic Duval, the Director of Enterprise Training, spearheaded the training effort, pairing engineers at
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA) and other partner space agencies with
qualified Linux professionals
skilled in teaching OS basics. He designed two courses for the trainees --
Introduction to Linux for Developers
Developing Applications For Linux
II. Debian is the Distribution
The ISS's systems run mostly Scientific Linux -- a distribution developed by
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
European Organization for Nuclear Research
(CERN) -- and RedHat Enterprise Linux, developed by Red Hat, Inc. (
). But the Linux Foundation steered Mr. Chuvula and NASA towards yet another distribution for the day-to-day machines -- Debian.
The agency decided on adopting (for now) Debian 6, a version released in Feb. 2011. Debian 7 was just released days ago, and will likely eventually be rolled out as well. Debian is licensed under the
GNU General Public License
(GPL), a permissive open-source license.
The ISS laptops will run Debian 6, a popular Linux distribution.
Debian relies on donations to develop, improve, and fix flaws in its codebase of over 320 million lines of code. The project boasts over 3,000 volunteers. The cost of Debian 5, had it been developed for-profit by salaried employees,
[PDF] in a recent academic analysis to have been $8B USD.
In terms of reception, Debian is
as second to only Ubuntu in popularity. While it's
difficult to estimate
the exact number of Debian users, security listings in the operating system show at least 1.9 million (active) unique IPs.
II. Robonaut 2 Gets an Upgrade; Scientist Deal With a Spill
In related news
-- a Linux-powered semi-autonomous humanoid robot aboard the ISS -- will soon get an upgrade, expanding its usefulness. Currently just a torso, head, and arms (with articulated "fingers"); the robot will receive legs and an expanded battery pack later this year.
The control software for the robot is Ubuntu, developed by Canonical. It's unclear what distribution the robot itself runs, but it runs a variety of embedded Linux. Launched in 2011 in the
final mission of the Space Shuttle
, the robot will soon be able to assist astronauts aboard the ISS with menial tasks (vacuuming, changing filters), as well as dangerous space-walk repairs.
The ISS is
a leaking in its ammonia-based cooling system. While the leak poses "no danger" in an immediate sense to crew, the leak threatens to shut down one of the solar panels powering the station's electronics.
One of the ISS's eight 230-foot dual-wings has a leaking cooling system and is being shut down. [Image Source: NASA]
As the solar arrays have independent cooling loops, the crew is phasing out the faulty loop and rerouting the other loops to stand in for its power source. The same array underwent troubleshooting in a Nov. 2012 spacewalk. It's unclear if that attempt failed to fully fix the leak, or if a new leak occurred.
The ISS's solar array
is the largest
[PDF] photovoltaic (PV) array ever deployed in space. Its advanced cells must be kept under 130 degrees Celsius, a daunting challenge given that the eight wings (consisting of 33,000 cells each) stretch over approximately an acre of space and produce between 75 and 90 kilowatts on an average day in space. That many kilowatts makes for a lot of waste heat, given that the even these extremely efficient cells are only around 25 percent efficient.
The Linux Foundation
"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes
American Accelerator's Last Hurrah: 99.8% Certainty God Particle is Found
July 3, 2012, 7:58 PM
Windows 7 Passes Windows XP in Just Two Years to Become Top OS
October 17, 2011, 12:00 PM
Microsoft Once Again Tells Businesses That the Party is Over for Windows XP
September 18, 2011, 12:06 AM
Space Shuttle Discovery Embarks on Last Flight Today
February 24, 2011, 12:09 PM
NASA, GM Unveil Robonaut 2
February 4, 2010, 10:08 AM
PIQ ROBOTTM reveals its new artificial intelligence software
November 29, 2016, 12:59 AM
One more time - Happy Thanksgiving to Everyone Around the World
November 24, 2016, 4:00 AM
Google’s Smart Contact Lens Project gets halted for 2016
November 20, 2016, 7:00 AM
Cell Research Study shows African Americans have greater immune response to infection
November 10, 2016, 1:00 AM
UTHealth Clinical Trial Shows Progress Using Stem Cells to Treat Traumatic Brain Injury
November 8, 2016, 1:00 AM
Uber Partners with Circulation to Pilot Program Connecting Transportation and Digital Health Care
November 6, 2016, 5:00 AM
Most Popular Articles
OnePlus 3T – 5.5” Optic AMOLED and Dash Charging Technology
March 23, 2017, 8:45 AM
Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Gaming G1 – Intel Thunderbolt 3 Certified Motherboard
March 9, 2017, 6:25 AM
Huawei P8 Lite 2017 – Android 7 Nougat Smartphone with Octa-Core Processor
March 8, 2017, 7:03 AM
Lenovo ThinkPad T460 - Ultra-Thin and Feather-light
March 3, 2017, 6:00 AM
Nokia has ditched this camera technology in its new smartphones
March 7, 2017, 8:45 AM
Latest Blog Posts
Android Creator and New Bezel-less Smartphone
Mar 29, 2017, 10:28 AM
More Apps From Google
Mar 28, 2017, 7:15 AM
Are you thinking of performance and speed? Intel claims:
Mar 25, 2017, 7:45 AM
Apple buys an automation app called Workflow. The deal was completed today and brings the app along with its developers.
Mar 23, 2017, 7:35 AM
Apple Announces new color for iPhones and iPads
Mar 22, 2017, 7:45 AM
Instagram: You Can Now Save Live Videos For Later
Mar 21, 2017, 7:49 AM
Samsung Galaxy S8 to Get New Color Scheme
Mar 20, 2017, 7:45 AM
What else to worry about?
Mar 17, 2017, 6:45 AM
Icon of the Day: Intel/ NVIDIA or Mobileye
Mar 16, 2017, 6:15 AM
JUST IN - Twitter Hijacked : High-Profile Account Accesses
Mar 15, 2017, 7:07 AM
Mar 14, 2017, 7:30 AM
News and Tips
Mar 13, 2017, 6:30 AM
iPhone 8 – May Not Get Curved Screen
Mar 11, 2017, 8:00 AM
California paves way to self-driving car tests without humans
Mar 11, 2017, 7:18 AM
Smart Machines V hackers
Mar 10, 2017, 7:00 AM
Uber Can Resume Autonomous Car Testing in California
Mar 9, 2017, 6:50 AM
Mar 8, 2017, 7:09 AM
Mar 7, 2017, 8:45 AM
World news 3-6
Mar 6, 2017, 5:40 AM
Mar 4, 2017, 7:40 AM
Mixed News of the Day
Mar 4, 2017, 6:32 AM
Jaguar Land Rover invests in ride-sharing
Mar 3, 2017, 7:00 AM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2017 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information