Ever had a virus infect your Windows computer? If you thought that headache and irritation over your home computer was bad, imagine how the astronauts on the International Space Station felt when a Russian cosmonaut brought in an infected laptop in 2008. The computer carried the W32.Gammima.AG worm, an insidious piece of malware that spread like wildfire to the other laptops on board the ISS.
Well, that will no longer be an issue now. The United Space Alliance, which handles all the ISS’ computers along with NASA, just switched those terminals to Linux from Windows XP: “We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable.” (Oooh, space burn.)
It’s true that Linux won’t be vulnerable to infections, but that’s not the only reason they’re putting Debian 6 on dozens of laptops on board the space station. According to Keith Chuvala of the United Space Alliance, they wanted an operating system that “would give us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust or adapt, we could.” Plus, other ISS computers use various versions of Linux, including RedHat and Scientific Linux, so the change would bring them in line with the other terminals.
Previously, the laptops ran Windows applications that were used for daily activities, from checking stock inventory to controlling scientific experiments and pinpointing locations. But at this point, they have all been re-written for Linux, in advance of the transition.
Tough luck, Microsoft. Looks like you’ll be a terrestrial operating system only now.
UPDATE: Looks like the ISS has greater worries than an OS migration right now. An ammonia leak, likely caused by space debris or a small asteroid, is necessitating an emergency space walk to repair the damage. For more info, click here.