International Space Station making laptop migration from Windows XP to Debian 6

May 12, 2013 by Nancy Owano report

(Phys.org) —The International Space Station has decided to switch dozens of laptops running Windows XP over to Debian. What Linux fans have been saying for years—that Linux delivers greater stability and reliability for public and private computing environments—resonated with Keith Chuvala, the United Space Alliance contractor manager involved in the switch. The change at the International Space Station is all about the replacement of dozens of laptops with XP being switched over to Debian 6. Chuvala said, "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."

Although Linux machines, like Windows, are not malware-proof, the fact that Linux is an means that a community overseeing a Linux distribution can issue quick notices and quick patches. Debian's site claims that mails sent over to the mailing lists get answers in 15 minutes or less and by the people who developed it. They also note that their bug tracking system is open and encourages users to submit their bug reports; users are notified when the bug was closed. "We don't try to hide the fact that software doesn't always work the way users want," according to the Debian site.

An incident in 2008 apparently made space-station personnel more aware than ever of a ' ability to disrupt operations in the absence of support from an open source community. That was the year the station computers were infected by the Gammina.AG. Virus after an astronaut brought an infected USB or into orbit. The virus infected other computers on board.

Chuvala and selected Debian, a system that uses Linux or the FreeBSD kernel. Debian can run on almost all personal computers. Ubuntu, which is a popular Linux-based operating system, said on its site that "Debian is the rock upon which Ubuntu is built." Debian began in August 1993 by Ian Murdock, as a new distribution to be made openly in the spirit of Linux and GNU.

The ISS adopted Debian 6. The Linux Foundation stepped in to assist with tailored training in the form of two courses, Introduction to Linux for Developers and Developing Applications For Linux. The courses prepared them for developing apps related specifically to the needs of the ISS.

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More information: training.linuxfoundation.org/w… -for-linux-migration

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User comments : 33

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Doug_Huffman
2.4 / 5 (15) May 12, 2013
Woohoo! Me too, to Fedora, three months ago. There are no Windoze in submarines or space ships.
ValeriaT
2.1 / 5 (22) May 12, 2013
replacement of dozens of laptops with XP
The Windows XP is ten years old officially unsupported operation system already - it's just punishable, that NASA already didn't upgrade it (with more modern version of Windows or something else). It's very easy to infect ten years old unpatched version of Linux with rootkit as well - and the quality of Linux or Windows OS has nothing to do with it at all.
Jo01
2.6 / 5 (17) May 12, 2013
Execllent move, I applaud that.

J.
ValeriaT
1.9 / 5 (18) May 12, 2013
Excellent move, I applaud that.
The USA subsidized the ISS with 100 billions of dollars, the all other countries with 50 billions of dollars only. And the Windows are generally widespread at desktops and laptops. I'm not USA citizen and patriot, but it would be more logical for me to keep the Windows at ISS and to punish the responsible person from NASA for lack of corresponding maintenance of operating systems at ISS. If the USA really want to keep their superiority in cosmic space, all these details are, what can influent it gradually.
that a community overseeing a Linux distribution can issue quick notices and quick patches
Whereas the Microsoft issues patches on daily basis. But how it will help the situation, if the ISS crew will leave their operation system without upgrade ten years, as it did with previous OS? The lack of regular maintenance and upgrade is, what makes the OS vulnerable.
ValeriaT
1.7 / 5 (17) May 12, 2013
It's not just about plain reinstall of computers at ISS, but about development of new computer programs for it and for systematic training of astronauts for it. I do perceive it as just plain waste of public money at the moment, when the upgrade of Windows would do the very same job. Instead of it, the NASA trolls will ask for another subsidizes from Congress. It's just you, American taxpayers, who are sponsoring this migration.
Jo01
2.8 / 5 (19) May 12, 2013
... do perceive it as just plain waste of public money at the moment, when the upgrade of Windows would do the very same job. Instead of it, the NASA trolls will ask for another subsidizes from Congress. It's just you, American taxpayers, who are sponsoring this migration.

Don't worry Linux is free and will cost the taxpayer nothing. Windows on the other hand is quite expensive.

J.

Eikka
1.6 / 5 (13) May 12, 2013
Don't worry Linux is free and will cost the taxpayer nothing. Windows on the other hand is quite expensive.


While Linux is technically free, the "some assembly required" part does cost money.

The problem with security is, that while the community can and does issue patches, you wouldn't install one to a mission critical machine without making sure that it really works as intended, and doesn't contain any backdoors and security holes, which means you need your own in-house developement and auditing team that easily costs just as much and then some.

And wasn't it Debian that got their software repositories hacked a couple years ago and a faulty binary package was spread around that made their SSH encryption useless because the random number generator would output predictable numbers? It was apparently up there for several years before anyone noticed.
VendicarE
3.5 / 5 (11) May 12, 2013
It seems that no one likes WIndows 8.

What a spectacular failure for Microsoft, and Monkey Boy Ballmer, it's incompetent CEO.

Feldagast
1.5 / 5 (8) May 12, 2013
Saw this on the Register 2 days ago.
italba
2.9 / 5 (14) May 12, 2013
I can't believe my eyes when I read the previous comments! Nasa should have improved the OS by switching to another Windows version? Maybe Vista???? I am a computer professional, and every system manager I know, if forced to work with Windows, will choose Windows XP, as the most stable and less bugged version! And do you really think you can put Windows 7 or 8 in a 10 years old notebook? And for security: You can find security holes if you can read, study, debug and execute in a protected environment the source code of your software. Otherwise you have to trust Microsoft (or NSA?).

@ValeriaT: Do you really think that an astronaut can't manage to learn how to use Debian in 5 minutes?
Eikka
1.6 / 5 (13) May 12, 2013
Do you really think that an astronaut can't manage to learn how to use Debian in 5 minutes?


That depends on whether they already know how to use linux in general. You can't just pick it up and start using it, if you have no idea where anything is and what is what, unless by "use" you mean open the web browser and try to watch youtube, which probably won't work right out of the box in a vanilla debian install anyhow.

ValeriaT
1.7 / 5 (14) May 12, 2013
Do you really think that an astronaut can't manage to learn how to use Debian in 5 minutes?
At the case of emergent repair or improvisation the previous whole-life experience with operating system could be an advantage.
every system manager I know, if forced to work with Windows, will choose Windows XP, as the most stable and less bugged version!
Windows 7 are OK too and they're improved with respect to virus vulnerabilities protection.
italba
2.7 / 5 (12) May 12, 2013
ASTRONAUTS MUST NOT PROGRAM COMPUTERS! They have to execute the programs professional land crew developed for the mission they have to accomplish! Every hour spent on the ISS costs HUNDRED OF THOUSANDS of dollars, they have not to waste time with antiviruses or clumsy patch system! A Linux system can be managed from remote in the same way as in local, without ever rebooting it.
EyeNStein
1.7 / 5 (11) May 12, 2013
Everyone has one year to move off XP as it goes out of support April 2014, so no more security fixes.
The 'modern' Micro$oft OS's are increasingly unwieldy, gimmick laden and aimed at dumb users and caged administrators. There are folders in Win 7/8 that even the administrator doesn't have rights to access. Administration is also optimised for Domain admin tools. I'd be surprised if they had a domain controller and roaming user profiles on the ISS.
Their laptops should be 'tools': Optimised, testable and provable for their specific purposes. With all 'risks' documented and mitigated. In their place I would deploy a commercially supported build of Linux too. But at home I still use Win 7 for a domestic environment.
YouAreRight
2 / 5 (6) May 12, 2013
I wonder why they chose Debian 6 over 7 as 6 might only be supported for another year.

... A Linux system can be managed from remote in the same way as in local, without ever rebooting it...


Ksplice for the win!

It doesn't sound like these machines are anything other than dumb terminals as I'm sure the important machines are all running ADA code on old 486's, so rebooting probably isn't an issue.

Some interesting reading on the ISS computer systems here
http://spaceref.c...omputer/
Humpty
2.1 / 5 (14) May 13, 2013
Do you really think that an astronaut can't manage to learn how to use Debian in 5 minutes?


That depends on whether they already know how to use linux in general. You can't just pick it up and start using it, if you have no idea where anything is and what is what, unless by "use" you mean open the web browser and try to watch youtube, which probably won't work right out of the box in a vanilla debian install anyhow.



It's an operating system.

My move to Linux over the years, was more prompted by the stupidly crappy standards of the Microsoft software, than anything else. If Microsofts software wasn't so "smash my face into the desk" or "smash the computer up" fucking idiotic corporate moron bullshit, I would not have done every thing I could possibly do, to get away from these arseholes and their crapware.

Linux = "Oh thank god for that!" :)
DirtySquirties
1.3 / 5 (12) May 13, 2013
It's more like Linux was the only OS s--tty enough to 'upgrade' to while still working on their ancient laptops.
alfie_null
4.2 / 5 (5) May 13, 2013
The problem with security is, that while the community can and does issue patches, you wouldn't install one to a mission critical machine without making sure that it really works as intended, and doesn't contain any backdoors and security holes, which means you need your own in-house developement and auditing team that easily costs just as much and then some.

Sorry, but Windows, a black box, is even worse in this regard.

And wasn't it Debian that got their software repositories hacked a couple years ago and a faulty binary package was spread around that made their SSH encryption useless because the random number generator would output predictable numbers? It was apparently up there for several years before anyone noticed.

That we see the open process of handling these vulnerabilities is a strong point in Debian's favor. Do you really believe Microsoft doesn't have similar issues? We just don't hear of them.
alfie_null
5 / 5 (3) May 13, 2013
And the Windows are generally widespread at desktops and laptops.

ValeriaT - You aren't a scientist are you? It's rare to find a science environment where the researchers aren't familiar with some sort of Debian-like OS.

Regarding aeronautics, availability is paramount. Having to deal with gratuitous upgrades every few years, and the specter of having your existing hardware [and apps] becoming incompatible is a big problem.

Regarding cost: how much? In relative terms (and disregarding beneficial savings), I'd guess not much. Factor in the benefits and it becomes a debate on how much is saved.
jnjnjnjn
2 / 5 (7) May 13, 2013
While Linux is technically free, the "some assembly required" part does cost money.

The problem with security is, that while the community can and does issue patches, you wouldn't install one to a mission critical machine without making sure that it really works as intended, and doesn't contain any backdoors and security holes, which means you need your own in-house developement and auditing team that easily costs just as much and then some.


Debian stable releases take a while to unfold. This means that the rest of the linux world is using newer versions off the (OS) software for years, so no security issues and no in house development is needed.

J.

Doug_Huffman
1.6 / 5 (7) May 13, 2013
Speaking of NASA computer technology, I just looked at my HP-41C w/ PPC ROM to see that it still functions. Kudos to Richard Nelson PPC#1
drhoo
1 / 5 (7) May 13, 2013
All this security stuff is WAY overblown. I run XP on the net with updates turned OFF and NO antivirus running. No problems for 3 years.
Now some will say the machine is hacked and I don't know it, if so how can you tell??

I would think the ISS computers are not connected to the general internet so the infection potential is much lower or non existent.

italba
2.1 / 5 (7) May 13, 2013
@drhoo: If you read better the article you can find the answer: Computers where infected by a usb key brought on by an astronaut.
drhoo
1.6 / 5 (7) May 13, 2013
Hows an astronaut suppose to get porn on board without his USB key. It gets kinda lonesome up there ya know
italba
2.1 / 5 (10) May 13, 2013
That's why you're not an astronaut.
Osiris1
1 / 5 (9) May 13, 2013
I run both windows and linux but like linux better. That said I have more than given windows a chance since the 1980's with windows 2.0. That makes me a windows dinosaur. I think the windows original code for Win95 was basically stolen from its partnership with IBM when it conspired with them to take over the computer world with OS/2 software/PS2 hardware. Partnership went sour when micro$$ realized it had solved the sound problem and IBM still had not had a clue, just like IBM has always been stupid. Micro$$ ran off to get its stolen code and the secret it should have shared with IBM and doublecrossed its way to riches. It has stolen tech and sued its competitors out of business ever since. The first win95 could play games with sound and OS/2 could not, despite being more open and better. Micro$ make its market share on cut rate sales to Dilberts and goldbrickers in offices all over the USA. More DOOM was played on it than ever any work done in office settings, esp networks.
Etreum
2.6 / 5 (5) May 13, 2013
I like Ubuntu better than windows, have to try Debian... free freedom and quality...
Osiris1
1 / 5 (7) May 13, 2013
Now I have and use Win7Prof on handbuilt full tower. 16GB ram over 4proc chip running at 3gB/s and 6TB disk space on main network node of 7 in home network. Dual booting with linux Mandriva 10 and Win7. '7' will not run older software that ran on XP and esp win2000. New hdwre mfgrs refuse to provide drivers for older oper sys from micro$$= micro$$ blackmail. Linux drivers for new hardware have a hard row to hoe cuz while they can write the drivers, it takes some reverse engneering and micro$$ fights a rear guard suing campaign to delay driver avails. Fortunately there are older hardwares out there but retail computer industry refuses to sell any but the 'win8 latest' crap so mainline dealers have to be sidelined. Same with software. BIOS is next to be windowsified so afraid it may take federal antitrust and many years in court and forced breakup of micro$ and jailing of its major stockholders to stop them. Get with linux, use fairly new hardware and pray it works.
Eikka
1.7 / 5 (6) May 14, 2013
Debian stable releases take a while to unfold. This means that the rest of the linux world is using newer versions off the (OS) software for years, so no security issues and no in house development is needed.


You always audit code you put into a mission/security critical machine, because the patches themselves may be buggy or have unforeseen side effects. Just because a patch exists doesn't mean you can just put it in blindly without testing that it works as intended.

If security is of concern, there's no advantage in running linux if you let just anyone submit code to your system without checking what it is yourself.
Neinsense99
1.6 / 5 (7) May 18, 2013
Microsoft issuing patches on a daily basis? Since when? Ever heard of Patch Tuesday, the monthly big day for patches? Even if fixes came out more often, that's for the flaws that it hasn't hidden. With closed code, how do you know it hasn't been sat on for weeks or months?
Neinsense99
1.6 / 5 (7) May 18, 2013
It's not just about plain reinstall of computers at ISS, but about development of new computer programs for it and for systematic training of astronauts for it. I do perceive it as just plain waste of public money at the moment, when the upgrade of Windows would do the very same job. Instead of it, the NASA trolls will ask for another subsidizes from Congress. It's just you, American taxpayers, who are sponsoring this migration.


If French parliamentarians and school kids in rural Africa can master Linux, it's hard to believe scientists, engineers and cosmonauts will have a hard time. My arts degree hasn't kept me from using, installing and configuring one Linux distro or another over nearly a decade.

You have MS shares, or is this just another subject on which you just don't get it, like your cold fusion promotion?
Neinsense99
2 / 5 (8) May 18, 2013
It seems that no one likes WIndows 8.

What a spectacular failure for Microsoft, and Monkey Boy Ballmer, it's incompetent CEO.



Ballmer should have had some other experts along with those "developers developers developers..."
Neinsense99
1.6 / 5 (7) May 20, 2013
Do you really think that an astronaut can't manage to learn how to use Debian in 5 minutes?


That depends on whether they already know how to use linux in general. You can't just pick it up and start using it, if you have no idea where anything is and what is what, unless by "use" you mean open the web browser and try to watch youtube, which probably won't work right out of the box in a vanilla debian install anyhow.


Yes, because only you would have thought of training. They'd never do training at a chop shop like NASA.