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An Astronaut's View of Space Station Tech

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the i-can-see-my-house-from-here dept.

Space 115

An anonymous reader writes "Here's a chat with a NASA astronaut about how they fix system outages on board the International Space Station, what kind of computing tech they use on board, and how he would like to see the iPad used on the ISS." He talks about using 5 year old laptops because they had been tested to handle the stresses of space travel, as well as the importance of being able to read emails and send pictures to family while aboard a space station for months at a time.

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Major Tom (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269312)

ISS: Oops.
Houston: You we don't like that word, ISS.
ISS: Sorry.
Houston: What happened?
ISS: Accidentally fired a de-orbit burn.
Houston: How'd that happen?
ISS: Went to enter a course correction, and opened my fart app instead.
Houston: D'oh!

Running Windows... (5, Funny)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269604)

Ground control to Major Tom, defragging disk and antivirus on...

Re:Running Windows... (1)

dintech (998802) | more than 3 years ago | (#34274858)

Download your Windows updates and put your Spybot on.

Re:Running Windows... (2, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 3 years ago | (#34275444)

It's difficult to update your windows in space; you could lose all your oxygen.

First (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34269336)

First post!

Re:First (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34269430)

FAIL!

Re:First (1)

tygerstripes (832644) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269492)

Be fair, he gets some bad lag up there, and his laptop's getting pretty old.

Link to 1 page version of TFA (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34269364)

One page version of the article [silicon.com] .

Not that I bothered reading it.... if they are quoting astronauts advocating ipads, it is clearly just yet another propaganda piece pushing mindless consumption. Very few people will operate a computer in zero gravity, and whilst it is possible that no keyboard and being stuck in a closed playground could be good in space, I should think the ipad would suck as much as when on the ground.

Re:Link to 1 page version of TFA (1)

cowscows (103644) | more than 3 years ago | (#34272814)

I love my iPad, but one of its main advantage over my laptop for me is that the ipad weighs much less and so is much more portable. But in space since everything's weightless, that benefit goes away, so it doesn't sound that much better.

Re:Link to 1 page version of TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34274134)

Uuuuuuhhhhhhhh, maybe you didn't know, but the mass stays... And it costs to launch the stupid thing in space in the first place. Why we are still going into "space" these days when we know there's nothing to do there is another mystery.

Re:Link to 1 page version of TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34276094)

I suppose you don't use any technology that relies on satellites?

IPAD vs Laptop (1, Interesting)

spartyparty (1943028) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269388)

I feel that using a IPad would be a no brainer for usage on a space station. Think about carrying around a laptop on a space station compared to a tablet. Much friendly and also why not create applications customized to their needs. Only down side is are they powerful enough...my guess is if they are using five year old lap tops it cannot be too far off

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (5, Interesting)

ZERO1ZERO (948669) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269474)

Would the iPad orientation sensor get confused when used in zero g environment? Does it use gravity to determine which way is up? What about gps do you get wimpy gps readings when using a gps receiver in space?

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (2, Funny)

ZERO1ZERO (948669) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269532)

Of course, by wimpy I mean, wonky. Damn iPhone autocorrect.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34271982)

Of course, by wimpy I mean, wonky. Damn iPhone autocorrect.

Geeeeez...you'd think iphone would know the "wonky" word!

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269578)

g sensor would be confused. Have to manually set the orientation. Since gps signals come from satellites in higher orbit than the station, I'd expect the signal to be stronger, not weaker.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (2, Interesting)

chispito (1870390) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269628)

Except most civilian GPS chips don't work above 60 or 80k feet or so and definitely not at orbital velocities. I assume this is so you can't put your Tomtom in a SCUD missile.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (2, Funny)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 3 years ago | (#34271888)

I assume this is so you can't put your Tomtom in a SCUD missile.

Right, because everyone wants a SCUD that's constantly making U-turns and going down dead-end streets!

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (2, Funny)

Hylandr (813770) | more than 3 years ago | (#34272284)

Me: "TomTom, course to Orbit Earth"
TomTom:Turn Left,
...Turn Left,
...Turn Left,


- Dan.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#34274704)

That's a good point. Hadn't thought about that limitation.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (2, Interesting)

marcansoft (727665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269674)

The signal would be stronger (well, except for the walls of the ISS), but most consumer GPS chipsets are utterly confused at high altitudes and high ground speeds. No real reason it couldn't be made to work given suitable GPS firmware, but it won't work out of the box.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 3 years ago | (#34273770)

My 8 year old Garmin handheld works great on an airplane at 41,000, assuming I zoom the map out enough so it's not redrawing every couple seconds.

My cousin flys A320s and the GPS on his 3G iPad works just fine in the cockpit.

GPS? (1)

tygerstripes (832644) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269636)

What, so you can find your way back to the ISS? Uh-oh...

Re:GPS? (4, Funny)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269972)

3:55:01pm (Foursquare) AstroTom has checked in at Chicago's Miracle mile!

3:55:51pm (Foursquare) AstroTom has checked in at The Cleveland Zoo!

3:56:31pm (Foursquare) AstroTom has checked in at Times Square!

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (3, Informative)

sahonen (680948) | more than 3 years ago | (#34270654)

A few interesting things about GPS in space:

a) All GPS receivers capable of sensing a position higher than 11 miles or a velocity higher than 515 meters/sec are classified as munitions and require state department licenses to export... Pretty much no consumer GPS receiver, including the iPad is going to be able to find itself in orbit. OTOH, the Space Shuttle itself uses GPS for space navigation, and I'm sure the ISS has a GPS receiver on board as well that can find its own location.

b) The GPS satellites orbit at 20,000 km, while the ISS orbits at 350km... The strength of the signal isn't really all that affected.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (2, Insightful)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 3 years ago | (#34271956)

b) The GPS satellites orbit at 20,000 km, while the ISS orbits at 350km... The strength of the signal isn't really all that affected.

Given a constant medium, sure, that would be correct. On the other hand, going just 2 meters underground will weaken the signal more than your entire 20,000 km range.

Not to say that you're wrong - I'm not sure how much more signal degradation you get due to atmosphere vs in a vacuum - but it's not as simple as you're making it sound.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

sahonen (680948) | more than 3 years ago | (#34272740)

Well, your reception certainly isn't going to get worse by putting less between you and the transmitter.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 3 years ago | (#34272960)

Ah I see the problem. Most of the comments I was reading were suggesting that reception would improve. I never actually read the one you were responding to. Whoops.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

NeuralAbyss (12335) | more than 3 years ago | (#34275926)

The restriction on civilian GPS receivers is that the receiver should be able to show a position higher than 11mi, or a velocity greater than 515m/s, but not both simultaneously. A number of GPS manufacturers, however, have implemented this in a somewhat slack fashion and used || instead of &&.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 3 years ago | (#34273742)

Since GPS is in space, I'd think you'd get very good GPS reception on ISS.

That's assuming they'd get a 3G iPad, my Wifi only work iPad doesn't have GPS.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

ThePeices (635180) | more than 3 years ago | (#34274604)

The orientation sensors used in Android and iOS devices are MEMS accelerometers, which only measure acceleration in each of the 3 axises. On Earth, gravity provides us with a constant 1g acceleration in a fixed direction, which is used to calculate the orientation of the device.

In zero G, and just floating there in front of you and not moving, the accelerometer will show a reading of 0g in all three directions, indicating that the device is in free-fall, which is quite correct.

So, yes, the orientation sensor will have to be manually overridden to stop changing orientation every time the device is moved.

Many modern laptops have freefall sensors that park the hard drive heads when freefall is detected to protect against damage, which would make them unusable in a zero g environment

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269618)

use a centralized server to handle the data and you'll be fine. ISS, there's an app for that.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1, Insightful)

internewt (640704) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269732)

I feel that using a IPad would be a no brainer for usage on a space station.

That's lucky then, because astronauts are notorious for being at the bottom of their classes all through their education, and often tend to fail when they get to the end. They are well known as stupid, so an ipad would go well with their no brains.

Think about carrying around a laptop on a space station compared to a tablet.

They'd weigh the same? A laptop can be closed to protect it when it inevitably floats off one day?

Much friendly

User friendliness is essential as astronauts aren't trained at all, they are just stuck on a rocket, blasted into space, and left to figure it out. If the tools they are sent up with are user friendly, they they stand a much better chance of being able to use the tools, and that will progress man's exploration of space quite considerably.

and also why not create applications customized to their needs.

Yeah, that is only possible on ipads. It is well know that general purpose computers cannot be used for any purpose that generally needs computing.

Only down side is are they powerful enough...my guess is if they are using five year old lap tops it cannot be too far off

Absolutely. The ISS doesn't have any computers built into it, and all flight computing, life support control, etc. is done on the same computers that the astronauts use for their email, so computational power is paramount.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34269974)

"It is well know that general purpose computers cannot be used for any purpose that generally needs computing."

Well, see, any idiot who knows some math (astronauts, maybe?) can get a free compiler for any x86 operating system.
But with the iPad, our tax dollars will actually be going to Apple just for the privilege of using their IDE.

Of course, everyone knows you get what you pay for, and programming an iPad with a proprietary and difficult toolchain will automatically yield better results than a free one that loads of people have been using for ages to program x86 general-purpose PCs.

By the way, the iOS SDK has to run on OS X... Are they going to bring Macbook Pros up to the ISS just to load programs onto the iPads? As opposed to... using the laptops themselves? Which is what they're already doing.

Or use a network connection and somehow buy their own programs (developed on OS X, on Earth) through Apple's store, which would make it impossible to field-test the programs, and bring in extra cost, and be stupid.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

Trolan (42526) | more than 3 years ago | (#34270136)

Aside from the app signing aspect, it's either GCC or LLVM for the compiler and toolchain. All those OSS things you love.

The astronauts wouldn't be touching station control software development while they're on-board. The developers on the ground would be the ones who need an OSX system, and I'd be kind of surprised if they don't have some knocking around. I mean, there is a NASA iOS application, so they've got some will to do iOS development in at least one part of the organization.

iOS 4 also lets you deploy an app on authorized devices wirelessly, and it's stupidly simple to do. No AppStore required.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34276862)

One additional issue which would need to be resolved if considering using an iPad for something like the PCS system would be connectivity to the station MDM computers - the MDMs are the primary flight control computers and the PCS laptops are dependent on them for their telemetry data stream.

This telemetry data stream is currently transmitted via a 1553 military grade avionics data bus - and while there are 1553 interface cards in both the PCMCIA and USB form factor, I don't believe the iPad supports either.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

e4g4 (533831) | more than 3 years ago | (#34271356)

Firstly, you don't need [apple.com] to use the iTunes store to distribute in house, custom apps. Secondly, the "proprietary and difficult toolchain" is largely based on "the free one that loads of people have been using for ages to program x86 general purpose PCs." Try building an iOS app without gcc. I'm not arguing that NASA shift their entire operation to an iOS workflow (that would be absurd), but devices like the iPad are _very_ well suited to the efficient consumption of information, and I think would fair well in a microgravity environment. Android would likely be a better OS choice, but that's no reason to use bad information.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (3, Insightful)

e4g4 (533831) | more than 3 years ago | (#34270330)

An iPad, or any one-piece touchscreen tablet running a modern operating system with an absolute minimum of moving/removable parts would be ideally suited to the space station environment. Light, small, durable and very unlikely to break, it would be much better than anything with many small moving parts (laptop with a keyboard, e.g.), and it would have 100% solid state storage. What's with the hate?

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

tibman (623933) | more than 3 years ago | (#34270886)

The only downside i can see is that it will constantly be hitting things. When typing on a laptop, it is fixed to a surface. Typing on an ipad, being handheld, you would always have to hold it or temporarily affix it to something in between using it and doing something else. If the ipad was bumpered and had some velco on it with corresponding strips on your thigh (for temp storage and perhaps reference) and perhaps chest (for storage) it would work very well. The formfactor is great. There are many many Android tablets in the ipad form as well.. ebay has tons.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#34272366)

I'd be curious to see how effective the iPad accelerometer would be in freefall. I suspect they'd have to flip the (software) switch to disable automatic screen reorientation, to avoid the iPad getting confused about which way is "down".

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

tibman (623933) | more than 3 years ago | (#34276748)

haha, does the ipad already do something when it goes into freefall (user drops it) ? That is a great point, the OS and/or Hardware would require customization.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 3 years ago | (#34273056)

iPad + two fans + assembly on it = control panel that can come to you or follow you around. You could even video conference with mission control if the facetime on ipad 2.0 rumors are true.

/not an apple fanboy
//although I do like my iPad

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

tibman (623933) | more than 3 years ago | (#34276726)

good idea..

might need a 3rd fan to rotate on the x axis. The vid conference would work great too if it could be encrypted end to end and is compatible with all the ground points the ISS makes contact with (various countries too). The only problem i can see with it is being compatible with lots of other tech (some quite old).

I wonder how much the bandwidth & latency is for data from the ISS? *googles* ah, no real internet connection. It's actually VNC to a computer on the ground :( sounds slow.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (2, Interesting)

Requiem18th (742389) | more than 3 years ago | (#34275364)

I'm not sure durable and iPad belong in the same sentence without a negative, you are looking for something more like this: http://www.ruggedtabletpc.com/ [ruggedtabletpc.com]

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

e4g4 (533831) | more than 3 years ago | (#34276938)

Strictly speaking, they weren't in the same sentence. At any rate, the iPad's greatest weakness (in terms of durability, at least) is damage from falling, which isn't really an issue on the space station.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

Requiem18th (742389) | more than 3 years ago | (#34277028)

On the contrary, in space things can fall in every way. But you can argue astronauts are very careful.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (5, Insightful)

vic.tz (1000138) | more than 3 years ago | (#34271132)

It's this kind of unprovoked, snarky assholery that I absolutely hate. GP didn't say anything inflammatory or ignorant, but you (and a few mods, as it seems) think it's acceptable to flame his post. Why?

They'd weigh the same? A laptop can be closed to protect it when it inevitably floats off one day?

Yeah, they'd weigh the same, but they definitely aren't used the same. I would think the ipad (or any tablet) would be more convenient than a laptop since it is designed to be used with one hand while holding it with the other. Laptops most likely need to be fastened to the ISS in some way in order to type on them. You can't simply use a laptop while floating in zero-g as it'd need a force to counter the force of your typing. If the astronauts were to have tablets instead, then they could take notes (or whatever astronauts do on the ISS) from any orientation.

Absolutely. The ISS doesn't have any computers built into it, and all flight computing, life support control, etc. is done on the same computers that the astronauts use for their email, so computational power is paramount.

Does this sentence have a point? Are you implying that GP thinks the ISS...? I don't know what you're implying! Your audience shouldn't have to decipher your patronizing sarcasm to understand your argument.

Don't be a jerk.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

Xaositecte (897197) | more than 3 years ago | (#34272614)

Don't be a jerk.

You must be new here.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34276274)

News flash, everything parent responded to "snarkily", was pointing out where GP was in fact being ignorant. The assumption that just because something pertains to "me" and "my life" means that a fucking astronaut might have the same viewpoint... is about as ignorant as it gets. In point of fact parent was incredibly polite as the only people who would be able to determine the insult... wouldn't have said such ignorant things to begin with.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34276712)

You are dead wrong in your statement that "all flight computing, life support control, etc. is done on the same computers that the astronauts use for their email"

First, all the station MDMs do the flight control computing - they are special-built hardened special purpose computers.

The PCS laptops are used as the human interface into the station MDMs - to display the status of various station systems, annunciate caution and warning alarms, and to send commands.

The SSC laptops are used for general day-to-day computing such as email and word processing.

While PCS and SSC use the same model laptop, PCS is a Linux-based system, while the SSC uses Windows.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34269768)

It's a nice idea on the surface but not very good once details are examined.

Anything they're using needs to be tested for their specific uses and requirements.
Even the summary states: '..using 5 year old laptops because they had been tested to handle the stresses of space travel'
Without that testing, how are they to be sure that their shiny new tech doesn't fall apart or break soon after it gets to them?
Since they're using older tech they also have to consider how well the system runs in 5 years, both the software and the hardware.
Considering that the common laptop people buy is meant to be replaced every 3 or so years, this is a major factor.

Creating applications customized to their needs also has its problems.
It needs that same rigorous testing but since it is very specific you can't count on having a million people using the software to test its every case and nuance.
Incorporating new software that requires high reliability but has limited test users outside of 'lab testing' is careful work.
AGILE development is not good for this.

In essence, anything going into space requires a large amount of testing to be sure it works so you want to go with the 'old trusty' rather than the 'new shiny'.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (3, Insightful)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269866)

Well the big problem that sticks out in my mind is the fact that these are cheap crappy consumer versions of technology that's been well established in business and industry. While newer tech might be better and even touch screens might be better, they are kind of glossing over the whole "rugged" thing. This both includes the physical aspects of the product as well as how data and programs on it are managed.

There was a nice exchange in one of the Trek novels about this. Something about being able to break things down and fix them yourself when you're off in space all by yourself.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 3 years ago | (#34273090)

I'd trust an iPad with a titanium (vs the current aluminum) rear cover, Corning's Gorillia Glass for the front screen, and the solid state-only parts inside over a laptop any day. How much laptop/electronics repair do you plan to do in orbit? Not even Amazon Prime is getting parts to you. I'm sure Apple would be happy to have Foxconn build hardened versions for the marketing value.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

EvilBudMan (588716) | more than 3 years ago | (#34273668)

Yeah things get kinda all shook up going up in a rocket in space. NASA has a tester for this. So if you put the iPAD on it and it still works then it's space worthy I guess. I wonder if an iPhone would work?

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

quacking duck (607555) | more than 3 years ago | (#34276752)

Yeah things get kinda all shook up going up in a rocket in space. NASA has a tester for this. So if you put the iPAD on it and it still works then it's space worthy I guess. I wonder if an iPhone would work?

The roaming charges on the iPhone would be pretty astronomical...

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34270106)

All the testing boils down to this: they use ThinkPads. IBM, and now Lenovo, do a special production run for them once or twice a decade.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34277136)

You are correct, but the special production run is more for product consistency than it is for feature sets. The T61p currently used on orbit were delivered by Lenovo with really only one custom feature - it has no finger print reader - they proved to be a little soft during radiation testing.

The reason for the special production run is so that NASA gets a whole group of laptops with identical components - components which are supposedly pulled from the same manufacturing lot - that way, when testing and certification of that model is complete, that certification carries over to all the other laptops purchased in the same group.

The actual flight laptops are actually pretty much "stock" - for the most part only mechanical modifications are made like adding a mil-spec power connector and a strain relief device for cables which attach to the PCMCIA cards.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34269772)

The iPad hasn't had time to be properly field tested.

Why build custom apps for it when the apps they have today work just fine?

Potential to use the same laptops with other systems on the station that may require physical ports.

The laptop is likely less expensive than the iPad.

Physical keyboards may still be preferred over touch screens.

They may be running apps that need to work with machines on the ground that are simply much more powerful.

Maybe things like multi-tasking and multi-booting serve a purpose.


All in all, your suggesting the latest whiz-bang gizmo and I can think of great reasons to not use it on the station and you didn't have a single reason that the iPad is should replace than the existing solution other than it being an iPad. That may work fine in your home but when you're paying thousands of dollars a pound to put something into orbit that can't be replaced for months at a time? Think about it.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#34272504)

"The laptop is likely less expensive than the iPad."

Not that likely. NASA isn't buying netbooks and cheap-ass laptops to send up to ISS, so $500 iPads would probably be cheaper.

Re:IPAD vs Laptop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34270464)

Have you seen the Space Shuttle control panel? http://www.chancebliss.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/shuttle_cockpit.jpg

I'm sure astronauts can figure out how to send email on a laptop, even without a "user friendly Apple GUI".

MTBF (1)

tygerstripes (832644) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269398)

5 year old laptop? If you can get one to run for that long before cocking-up, NASA's money is being well-spent...

Re:MTBF (2, Informative)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269774)

No, this is not true. We had a story here some time ago about how they've upgraded to the Lenovo T61p Thinkpad. 1680x1050, yeah! I know this because I have a T61. They're damn solid, and pretty contemporary—Core 2 Duos around 2.5 GHz.

Re:MTBF (2, Informative)

Nirvelli (851945) | more than 3 years ago | (#34270692)

I'm typing this on a 5-year-old laptop with a 5-year-old installation of XP on it. I've had to add RAM and replace the battery and swap out the charger a few times, but otherwise this thing still runs great. You just have to actually take care of your equipment.

Floating variable (3, Funny)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269412)

"We use foot loops that allow us to park our feet - if you put a finger on the computer and you don't have something to restrain you, you can float away," Anderson said.

Apparently, this isn't just an Earthly problem. Some of my colleagues desperately need foot restraints to keep them from gravitating to the coffee break room.

Using old technology (2, Insightful)

BC_R3 (1942996) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269440)

On many occasions I have opted to use old technology over new because of reliability and also because I know exactly what I'm doing. In high stress situations you don't want to lose time trying to figure out a new application when an old one would have worked just fine.

Re:Using old technology (1)

gatzke (2977) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269700)

Heard about missile folks using old stuff because it is hardened and works. Some systems run on core memory, physical single bit wound magnets. They make hardened CPUs too, but they are usually generations old.

But for this, I would think they would let them consider a new laptop with maybe a spare? I know weight is an issue, but some of the modern netbooks are totally usable. I could probably survive with just my droid if I had to.

HAL! (2, Funny)

falldeaf (968657) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269660)

One of the biggest worries that we have with our computer system on board is malicious software and virus attacks," Anderson said.

I'm sad that astronauts are running windows... I thought for sure some type of HAL like AI was their OS on the freaking *space* station... or at least linux :P

Re:HAL! (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269716)

Ah, but HAL is Clippy version two! Just look at his statements: "I'm sorry Dave. I can't do that Dave. Would you like a nice cup of tea Dave?" No HAL, I just want to open the damned airlock.

Re:HAL! (1)

falldeaf (968657) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269928)

Haha, astute observation. That makes me wonder if Clippy's problem wasn't an image problem this whole time. That stupid paperclip looks so damn smug, while HAL's red, shiny eye seems intelligent, cold, and omnipresent.

Re:HAL! (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269960)

I had HAL clips for some of my sound settings back in the day. My mom was using my computer to play solitaire or freecell, and was surprised when it said "Thank you for a very enjoyable game." when she finished.

Re:HAL! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34269786)

ISS + StuxNet = ?

Re:HAL! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34271154)

There are windows computers on the station but all of the MDMs that handle C&C, GNC, EPS, ECLSS, etc. have custom software and the PCS computers (the laptops astronauts use to interface with the station C&C systems) are unix (with CDE [wikipedia.org] , I think)

Re:HAL! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34276610)

Close - the PCS systems are currently Lenovo T61p systems. Both the T61p's currently used and the previously used A31p laptops run a very stripped down version of Scientific Linux with a custom kernel and a basic Motif Window Manager desktop.

On top of the MWM desktop they use a custom built toolbar to provide a sort of Windows-like look and feel.

Keep them updated (1)

RoyalTee (1942268) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269762)

Wouldn't you think that we would want our astronauts to have top of the line, cutting edge technology to work with? I just think they should have to best resources to help their research in space. Now with that though, the problem lies with the technology. Is it too new and foreign to the astronauts that they wouldn't be able to fix it if it breaks? I understand how they like the reliability of the old machines, but it just seems like we should send them up there with only the best technologies as to optimize production. Plus, the iPad could be a pretty nice space/weight saver.

Re:Keep them updated (2, Insightful)

rakuen (1230808) | more than 3 years ago | (#34270034)

Ask early adopters of consoles. 360s had the red ring. Wii had dead pixels. PS3 probably had something, I don't keep up on that sector. I'm pretty sure they've all had disc read problems. It's all about the reliability. It might be nice to have a lightning fast laptop, but if it breaks, it's doubtful you're going to have the resources to fix it. If it's a brand new laptop, you're not going to know how it's likely to break. And since they're in space, you're really not going to know how it's likely to break.

Re:Keep them updated (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34271962)

I just think they should have to best resources to help their research in space.

Now we'll never know if ants can be taught to sort tiny screws in space!

Re:Keep them updated (2, Insightful)

dtml-try MyNick (453562) | more than 3 years ago | (#34273484)

I understand how they like the reliability of the old machines, but it just seems like we should send them up there with only the best technologies as to optimize production.

Seems to me that you'd wanna supply them with the best tool for the job. In an environment like the ISS the best tool would be a very reliable tool.

Optimizing production up there means making sure it works, always and forever. Since you can't simply replace broken stuff it's either full production or none..

Very Interesting! (1)

Maabsta (1943052) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269782)

Sometimes we forget just how connected we really are in modern society. I work at Best Buy and we even use an Ipad to run the sales floor and help track numbers. Technology is just a means to an end so I say give the astronauts whatever technology they see fit. Interesting piece.

iPad ads, iPad ads everywhere (1, Interesting)

Fallingwater (1465567) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269858)

I read (most of) the TFA, and it seems the only place the iPad is mentioned is in the last five or so lines at the end of the fourth page (of a total of four). The man says it's "very possible" they'll adopt a popular device like the iPad over another tablet or old PDA. Period. Based on this ridiculously small amount of information about it, the iPad shouldn't even be mentioned in the summary. But it is, because that makes people read the article.

Y'know, I'm tired of all the blowjobs Steve Jobs is getting from the press the world over. I can't count the times I've seen ads for iPads thinly disguised as meaningful articles on magazines and newspapers that normally have nothing to do with the field of portable computing. The most shameless go with "how the iPad has changed our life" ("our" whose? Because last I checked, an iPad wasn't a requirement for every household like, say, a vacuum cleaner is). The ones that retain *some* level of self-respect have the decency to say "how tablet computers have changed our life", but then invariably have a picture of an iPad under that title.

And I'm no anti-fanboy, mind you. I dislike the iPad for a variety of reasons I won't discuss here, but I'd be making the same remarks if the press had gone all apeshit about the latest Android tablet, or something.

As for the topic of technology on space stations, I found this [dansdata.com] an interesting read, and rather more informative as well - though it's more about the computers running the stations than the ones used by the staff for their own enjoyment. It's surprising just how old the stuff going up in space really is.

Re:iPad ads, iPad ads everywhere (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34272712)

"And I'm no anti-fanboy, mind you. I dislike the iPad for a variety of reasons I won't discuss here...."

OK, so instead of being an anti-fanboy, you're one of the uninsightful asperger cases who thinks that "it isn't for me" means "it sucks".

iSpace (1)

qbkspit (1941568) | more than 3 years ago | (#34269966)

I wonder how would it be to use an iPhone or iPad in space with zero gravity.
Probably really funny and at the same time stressful - try to play your favorite tilt games now OR get the Google Maps and let find your location on ORBIT! =D

I know what I would choose (3, Insightful)

houghi (78078) | more than 3 years ago | (#34270146)

if I had the choice between a 5 year well tested portable or a new gimmick.

Re:I know what I would choose (1)

Ksevio (865461) | more than 3 years ago | (#34270752)

Sad thing is they probably have newer equipment than my laptop. Of course it was new at the time.

Re:I know what I would choose (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34276002)

In zero gravity I would use the one that was designed to be used while held in your hand not the one designed to be sitting on a desk to be used.

5 years old seems pretty standard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34270264)

most of us just use 5 year old laptops because our companies are ... well anyway. But managers and executives (and their admins) are on shorter refresh cycles. I know this is an old Dilbert cartoon. It is also my life.

Well ... (2, Funny)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 3 years ago | (#34270328)

... I suppose it is only Macs that connect to ailien space ships. I wonder if that's true of iPads as well.

Re:Well ... (1)

Manos_Of_Fate (1092793) | more than 3 years ago | (#34273024)

There's an app for that!

iPad in space? Old news! (3, Interesting)

ShavedOrangutan (1930630) | more than 3 years ago | (#34270632)

In 2001 A Space Odyssey, in the first scene onboard the Discovery when Bowman and Poole are having dinner, they're both watching a BBC broadcast on iPads!

Full size flat screen video tablets that look suspiciously like an iPad.

In 1968! That was 42 years ago!

Another reason for using laptops is... (2, Insightful)

Solandri (704621) | more than 3 years ago | (#34270660)

The computing hardware built into the ISS is not really something you want to be "upgrading" every few years. The "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" principle applies here: The hardware is running multiple systems critical to life. If it works fine now, don't mess with it and expose yourself to the possibility of the new system having bugs which could kill people.

Less critical functions can be run on a portable computing device like a laptop. These can be upgraded more frequently since they don't have to be tested as thoroughly as the mission-critical systems are. Due to the fast pace at which computing technology improves, this frequently results in situations where the portable computing device is more powerful than the built-in systems. On many early shuttle flights, the most powerful computer on board was the HP-41 calculator [wordpress.com] .

Re:Another reason for using laptops is... (1)

FranckMartin (1899408) | more than 3 years ago | (#34271186)

Don't forget that in space, chips are exposed to more rays than on earth. Having a bit to flip by itself to its opposite value happens way more often. I'm sure they slow down the processor and add extra shielding to compensate....

Re:Another reason for using laptops is... (1)

Sean_Inconsequential (1883900) | more than 3 years ago | (#34274190)

Just what do you think you're doing Dave?

NASA not Nasa (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34271372)

Try NASA in that headline (not Nasa)

Urine + Outer Space = Good clean Christian fun (2, Interesting)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34271898)

I remember reading about an interview with one astronaut, who said that the most spectacular sight he saw in outer space was when his urine was ejected from the capsule. It immediately froze, crystallized and exploded, and was brilliantly illuminated by the sunlight.

I tried to google for this reference, but only came up with this: http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/090911-space-water-dump.html [space.com]

It's nice to see that astronauts use their precious bodily fluids to entertain stargazers.

duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34272338)

More advanced computers would lead to potential back-door vulnerabilities from a hostile robotic race.

ho8o (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34272678)

So with all of that training (1)

ComputerGeek01 (1182793) | more than 3 years ago | (#34273894)

During Anderson's time on board he installed a local area network throughout the station, requiring him to run ethernet cable ... upgraded software on the station, either by swapping out old hard drives or updating systems using a CDs or DVDs

So with all of that training, knowledge and the background checks this guy is basically an intern? I thought that these people had PhD's and were doing important research. If that's all you really need to know to become an Astronaut then I'm owed an apology because I was lied to in school.

FaiLzo8s? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34275266)

problem stems 8ational gay nigger

ISS handles FOUR different suns? (1)

ihaveamo (989662) | more than 3 years ago | (#34277354)

Check the picture! - Input from four different suns! (And three stars, it seems). I thought Suns WERE stars.. oh well, my mistake.

Dont be a fool.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34277524)

Even though the laptop/iPad runs on an isolated network then the ISS mission critical systems, if the laptop/iPad were to get a virus it could still be transmitted to the ISS systems. If an affected laptop/iPad were to get close enough in proximity to an exposed ISS circuit board, a virus can be spread from one system to another. A durable bag needs to be used to contain the laptop/iPad before its exposed to the wonders of space.

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