Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?
United States

NASA Gives Linux a Chance on Portables 88

ces writes "From Government Computer News Feb. 7: 'NASA will give Linux a nod for upcoming portables buy.' It seems Linux is on the list of 'desired' OS's for an upcoming NASA procurement of up to 4,000 laptops, some of which will be destined for use on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

NASA Gives Linux a Chance on Portables

Comments Filter:
  • Yeah, I'm sure once they started using it they found other advantages.

    It's nice that Linux supports so many platforms, just like NT was supposed to do.

    ...and I'm sure being able to easily modify the OS is essential to some of the work they were doing.

    But I bet if they could just throw money at the problem instead, they wouldn't have necessarily looked at Linux. I bet you could customize a version of NT or BSDI or something into oblivion if you had the money.

    But this is all just speculation on my part, of course. :)
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • Linux has already been in space, but it's nice to see NASA using it this much.

    I just wish it wasn't just because their budget was cut so harshly... Poor NASA. However, now we can say that Linux is truely "Space-Age Technology"... :)

    (Isn't that term getting old? Or am I just starting to believe that "Information Age" bulls**t? ;)
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • by crayz ( 1056 )
    In about 20 minutes you guys are going to be breaking out singing "All we are give Lee-nooks a chance".

    It's sickening. Stop. This is not that big a deal. All they said is that they want the laptops to be able to run Linux, not necessarily that they are going to run it. Before getting all excited, RTFA®(read the fucking article):

    "NASA specified a flash BIOS for updates and a plug-and-play operating system such as Microsoft Windows 9x, Windows NT or Windows 2000; SunSoft Solaris 2.7 or later versions; or Linux and other Unix variants."
  • "The winning portable unit with power supply and cables must occupy no more than a cubic foot of storage and weigh no more than 25 pounds."

    Heh heh. This is going to be a "portable", right? You think those NASA-scientist weaklings will be carrying around a 25 pound laptop? And what is the cost-per-pound of getting something into space, like $10,000? So that means a 25 pound laptop would cost close to $200,000 more to get into space than a normal one.

    You wondered where all that money goes...
  • Well. I don't think they paid DBs salary while he worked on ethernet for Linus out of charity.

    NASA saw as far back as linux-0.9x that this thing may become useful to them and if it dose it will leave more room in the budget for a few extra spanners.

  • What is this? Are you part of some MS "grassroots" campaign? I thought they learned thier lesson about this. Sure the charity is great but it's REALLY just so BillG can reduce his TAX.


  • IRIX: insecure? possibly; hard to support? sure. unscalable? Absolutely NOT.

    Now, I'm not saying that IRIX is THE tits and beer of Unix but scalability is something that IRIX is extremely proficient at.


  • <rant>
    That really does not even begin to compare to all the harm he and the likes of him have done.
    Just because he has donated some dollars to charity, does NOT make him exempt from all the harm caused. This just makes me sick. People are no better off because of charity. There have been billions of dollars worth of charity donated to various causes. Do you see that the world has been made any better? Poor countries are still getting poorer and the rich richer. Colonialism is still in effect all over the world and the 'developed' countries are the ones reaping the benefits. Colonialism is just being used by Big Corporations and not countries. And why? Because it fits their charter (Make Tons of Money for Shareholders).

    Predatory business practices are now more commonplace than before Bill Gates published any of his books. Yes, people actually follow those who make a buck and not those whose moral is on a higher level.
    Linux Penguin has been used and continues to be used to gather money for endangered animals and other charities.
    Get your facts straight before you post this garbage.

    Whew, I just had to get that out of my system.
  • The computers on the hubble have to be able to withstand some radiation, so they "harden" and test computers for awhile, which means older computers are used. The stray radiation can cause problems with memory, etc.
    Laptops currently used on the shuttle have to reboot everynow and then when they get funky, but you'll could always blame that on other things besides the radiation.
  • Not a chance

    The traces on "modern" chips can't take the raditation. Errors all over the place...

  • Forget the linux, score one for the TAXPAYERS!

    No OS to buy, no apps to buy = more money for NASA to do research. Woohoo!

  • 4000 laptops is far from large enough of an order to make it worth any company's time to develop a powerpc based laptop. Perhaps they could just buy the computers from apple (5 hrs/battery) and install Linux on those?

    Of course, being a government agency, NASA could probably blow $20,000/laptop and just shrug their collective shoulders. The question would be would IBM be willing to develop a new product line for only a guarenteed $80,000,000 in sales? Let alone if they charged "market value" for laptops meaning $2,000/piece. $8,000,000 doesn't take you very in that scenario.
  • Your gnome terminal crashed twice this morning and you're saying that NASA should go with it?!? Or, what would they use as their windowing interface with their FreeBSD laptops? Gnome and KDE are the two that seem to be drawing the largest amount of developers these days....

    Please, when making arguments FOR linux or a member of the Unix family, refrain from mentioning how any part of said systems is unreliable... Makes you stick out like a sore thumb around here! :)
  • What do you mean, no support???

    Just because the kernel itself may not crash as often does not mean that questions and other issues won't arise. Support means much more than "i had to reboot my computer"... if it were that simple, 1/2 of the tech support world could probably find new jobs.

    Linux is free to acquire, but in a setting such as NASA's, it still costs money to maintain.
  • You know, portable used to mean something more than simply "laptop"... It meant self contained, with handles. by that note, an imac could be considered a portable... it's not like they need to lug the machine around the shuttle... They just eneed small eonough boxes that they don't take up space that the rest of their equipment woudl be using.
  • Emmett, you've gotta be really hard up to trumpet this. Basically, about the only modern OSes* that aren't provided for by the requirements are MacOS and OS/2. (Unless you consider AmigaOS to be a "modern" OS, and you don't consider BeOS to be a "Unix variant.") Even Minix or Xenix would be considered a "desired OS" under these guidelines.

    In case you haven't read them, the OS part reads: "The laptop shall support the operating systems: Windows 95/98/2000, Windows NT, SunSoft Solaris version 2.7 or later, and other Unix or Linux variants."

    How selective. Everyone rejoice.


    * When I say modern OSes, I'm talking about ones with a decent amount of users, not some obscure stuff nobody's actually using, no matter how great it is.

  • The traces on "modern" chips can't take the raditation. Errors all over the place...

    Then, of course, they should be shielded. This is common practise in military electronics to withstand nuclear radiation...

  • "shall be designed to fit within the internal dimensions of 0.43m x 0.5m x 24.18m (16.95 in X 20.00 in X 9.52 in)."
    Will NASA never learn?
    They start with requirements in an obsolete system (Inches and Pounds) and then translate it into the proper (and required) SI for the official bid-form, then translate it back for ignorant suppliers......
    They can't even do that right!, 24.18m = 9.52 in..
    Bunch of amateurs, I'm glad I'm not flying with them or live under the flight path!
  • You are a (moron) troll and I tell you why:

    1. gnome-terminal != Linux
    2. The sysadmins at your school are lazy. I have been running the latest stable Gnome (october gnome) for the last three months. It has not crashed on me yet.
  • You believe to the (MS sponsored) FUD from mindcraft study do you? What do you mean "does not scale"? Does not scale on big computer? Does not scale on small computer? Something else?

    There are several TOP-500 linux based supercomputers (includeing some being used in NASA)

    Also, someone from NASA has said before "If it does not come with source, this is not software". They want a good stable OS _with_ the source. They don't give a shit about "support". They are smart enough to tweak and fix whatever they need on their own.

    NT reliability is a joke. I reboot my linux servers and workstations only to 1) Install new hardware. 2) Upgrade kernel. Try that on NT.

    And there are companies behind Linux. SGI, RedHat, Linuxcare, Caldera, VAResearch, etc offer all kinds of support as long as your pocket is deep enough.
  • I used to work for the Mars Polar Lander [] project, on its Ground Data Systems. One thing about this announcement is that its only making official what already happens a lot in NASA.

    Internally, we used a lot of Linux boxes, and even more GNU tools on Solaris boxes. In fact, the whole image processing pipeline was built using a series of BASH scripts by the NASA AMES team, as part of their operations deployment.

    The web servers for the MPL were Solaris x86 boxes driven by Apache and PHP, while the support boxes for DNS and mail were Linux (red hat, stripped down). All ultra-reliable, getting them secure was the hardest bit of the whole operation really (we considered OpenBSD for a while, but didnt have enough inhouse skills with it)

    And, to reassure you, no Windows servers were used for anything other than looking pretty.
    Oh, and Quake III. None of the Linux boxes had 3D cards :)

    Anil Madhavapeddy
  • Run NASA on W2k and launch Bill Gates into space.
  • Hmm...
    Well I keep my machines upto date but I very rarely re-boot them. They get rebooted for the following reasons:

    1. Kernel upgrade.

    2. Hardware Change.

    3. Power outage.

    At work we have a few machines that are approaching 500 days of uptime so it just goes to show you, set up a machine for a specific task and if it works don't break (ie fool with it)

  • I love linux. It's neat and fun and spiffy. I can keep it running for weeks on end and update every two minutes.

    And yet....

    I sometimes feel that all it's reliability and stability is ultimately derived from the way I *can* continually update, recompile, and reconfigure. In other words, my linux box has always been a kind of work in progress for me. And I think it always will be. Despite all the stories of "I got an old Slackware Box in the back room, for three years collecting dust and serving web sites, as free as contact as a leper", I always seem to be tweaking something.

    Is this really what we want in our Space Shuttle? I mean, upgrades, bandwidth, and experts aren't exactly as common as space dust (despite the radio show of our intrepid founders, I still think it would be hard to find a geek in space). We want to use systems that are set up to run as is-- statically.

    On the other hand, what's the alternative? Unlike most other operating systems, it *is* possible to configure Linux and BSD to support what you want and only what you want. This could lead to incredible stability. Maybe BeOS comes close. So I guess as long as NASA makes sure we're not going to have a "Hey, I got the angband package, but it looks like we forgot the math and science packages" situation, I guess this is good news.

    Lagos - White Rabbit of Linux
  • It's ultimately also a principle of stability and user base. More users are using Linux than OpenBSD. More importantly it's user base is growing faster than other. And user base counts for a lot in a UNIX-like environment where things are constantly being updated and improved.

    The reason I would choose Linux in this situation over NetBSD, FreeBSD, or OpenBSD is simple: The open software principle has worked very well; however, it requires many developers in order for it to function. By using Linux, NASA ensures that it won't be stuck with legacy code or a lack of appropiate utilities, because chances are someone somewhere is developing it. Even though BSD systems are more efficent in some regards, they simply don't have the community to draw upon that Linux will have in another 2 years. And we'll see who's more efficent then....

    Lagos - White Rabbit of Linux
  • Muppet Show fans will remember a similarly titled skit.

    Holy shit! I'm old.

  • ... an enourmous portable Beowulf cluster!
  • BLECCCCHHHHHH!!!!!! GACK! 6000 * 4000 == $24,000,000 (price * units == cost). I have no idea what that vioa or whatever that damn thing is called nor the what price. aNYWAYS! That is hell of a lot of money. Not like cost ever stopped nasa before!
  • The computer they installed on the hubble space telescope had to be freed of radioation or some crap. That is why they only put in a 486. I wonder if that would apply to the space shuttle? I guess that it wouldnt matter, but it is just a thought. Why do you want a ppc so bad? I think the best thing would be that new Transmeta Crusoe chip. That would be schweet!
  • The computer they installed on the hubble space telescope had to be freed of radioation or some crap. That is why they only put in a 486. I wonder if that would apply to the space shuttle?

    I doubt it, Hubble is much less shielded from radiation than either a space station or the shuttle would be. Remember, people will be living in the space station for months at a time - it wouldn't do for a solar flare to wipe them all out...

  • I like this quote from the article:
    Adding Linux to portable computers was a challenge in the OS? early days because of missing device drivers and incompatible hardware.

    But the picture is changing. Compaq Computer Corp. and Linux publishers such as Red Hat Inc. of Durham, N.C., distribute tips on running Linux on notebook computers.

    Everyone aparantly was sitting around wonderring how to get Linux to run on various hardware and Red Hat until Red Hat "Gave them a few tips" on how it was done. he heh. Speaking of device drivers my ethernet card driver was programmed by Donald Becker who works at Nasa and also does cool things with Beowulf clusters.

    from the .doc :
    1.2.2 Software
    The laptop shall support the operating systems: Windows 95/98/2000, Windows NT, SunSoft Solaris TM version 2.7 or later, and other Unix or Linux variants .

    Sorry, it looks like Apple just isn't cool enough... it's a pity really.

  • You explained why using GNOME implies using Linux. To be synonymous, using Linux would have to imply using GNOME as well, which clearly is not the case.
  • Didn't they lose a spacecraft due to not converting measurements in a program? BTW I think they mean 24.18 cm = 9.52 in m = metres cm = centimetres 100 = 1 metre mm= millimetres 1000 = 1 metre
  • It looks like the Sony Vaio PCG-X9 [] that was the subject of an article [] earlier in the day fits NASA's bill quite nicely! I understand that Linux works quite nicely on newer Vaio laptops.

    Go NASA! Go Linux!
  • NASA is definitely a great open source friend out there. We appreciate those net drivers too :)
  • It is not only because their budget has been cut. They have been using Linux on their larger system for quite a while. Linux allows them to utilize an OS that can work on almost all hardware platforms and associated equipment. If they have been unable to find a driver for the equipment they just generate it. Works all the way up to their raid modules. SO that makes it a wonderfully viable platform for their computing needs.
  • Well I mean things like:

    sounding a loud warning before ejecting your disks...

    or being able to display the screen upside down...

  • I heartily agree. Maybe even just use G3 PowerBooks with Linux PPC. (I doubt NASA wants to send the Neon Toilet Seat Cover into space. ;P )

    I'm sure power consumption is on the list of requirements somewhere.

  • You said:

    "If you check out their anonymous FTP server, and look around hard enough, you can find some really cool GPLd toys."

    I hope you can give us some url to save us from the "look around hard enough" stage.

    Any url, please?

  • Amen.

    A lot of people have the weird idea that NASA is some monolithic agency where the CIO dictates the color of the mouse pads. It doesn't work like that. If you name an operating system, somebody, somewhere is using it. The goal is to use the best tool for the job, not to worship at the throne of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Linus Torvalds.

    These contracts are issued to save money on items that are likely to be in high demand. It also reduces the amount of paperwork and red tape.

  • Linux doesn't need to scale to high upwards on a laptop... How many dual processing notebooks have you seen on the market?

    I do get your point about having a company standing behind the software though... It's too easy for red hat to pass the buck on some issues... I'd still question your choice of NT over Solaris or SCO, though.

  • ought to contract someone to build them some PPC based laptops running a *nix. P3 and Celeron based laptops take up too much power in my opinion, you have to remember you're running these things in a very closed environment with limited power. My Powerbook uses 7 less WPH than a comparable Dell Inspirion, most of the difference is the processor. I bet NASA could get IBM to build them some since they have both PPC licenses and have pretty good working knowlege of both Linux and AIX. I hope whatever they go with runs a Unix variant, especially an open one like Linux. Linux would mazimize the hardware on the notebooks and allow the astronauts and engineers to edit it to their needs.
  • At first glance, this may not seem like much of a big deal. After all, Linux support is but one of many requirements for JSC's next laptop purchase. But if you know a little bit about the IT history of JSC, you'll see this is a very favorable nod to Linux.

    JSC has been the site of an IT jihad []. In 1996, the head honcho of IT at JSC made a push to "standardize" the IT environment. His decision was to ignore the advice to use standardized, cross-platform file formats and instead make JSC a Microsoft shop. This put the large userbase of Macs directly in the line of fire and they fought back. It became a long, drawn out political fight between JSC officials, the Inspector General, and Congress. In the end, nobody completely won. But Microsoft technology made some major leaps forward in seizing control of JSC's IT infrastructure.

    Like with many other large organizations, JSC today is very much a Microsoft shop. It is a prime test center (read: Microsoft partner) for various MS offerings to include Exchange, SMS, and Win2K. But Microsoft does not hold all of JSC. Macs have made a comeback. Various Unix flavors exist to include Solaris, HPUX, AIX, IRIX... to name a few. VMS has always been in the shadows. And Linux is sprouting up.

    Linux shows up as "testbeds" in various organizations. It runs tasks as rogue installations (desktops as well as servers). And one organization has even created their own dual-boot Windows/Linux standard desktop load. Furthermore, the ODIN IT contract has received requests from JSC "customers" for a Linux load.

    And now JSC's contracting office has set Linux as one of its requirements for future hardware purchases.

    JSC has followed the pattern so many other organizations have followed. Linux has gone from an obscure user-supported rogue installation to an official, sponsored requirement. The fact that this was done in spite of the direction of internal political pressure and the natural tendancy of these kinds of large organizations to resist change is a tribute to Linux.

  • Good god, I'd forgotten all about that damned movie. "Thermal curtain failure," my rear end.

    OK, so it had Lea Thompson and "Forever Man" by Eric Clapton. But still...

  • Once upon a time NASA ran GRID laptops. Weren't they running some sort of *NIX variant?

    I was in contact with an astronaut recently and he told me that some of the programs they run on the shuttle are still MSDOS programs.

  • No, he said it was GPLed. Which means it is not in the public domain.

    You have to claim a copyright on something to put it under a license. Public domain is by definition a forfeiture of any rights under copyright law.

    If you can't figure out how to mail me, don't.
  • Combine Linux with the low power requirements of the Crusoe and... woohoo! perfect space application. No support needed and very little power.

    Microsoft's new slogan should be "Houston, we have a problem"...

    If you can't figure out how to mail me, don't.
  • BSDI, maybe. But you see what happens when you just try to create DRIVERS for NT...

    Don't forget, computers in space can (but not necessarily always do) mean the difference between life and death. "open that airlock... damn! bluescreen!

    If you can't figure out how to mail me, don't.
  • I second that. I've been running Linux for several years and have only seen... maybe two... crashes. And those were all due to hardware failures.

    My advice to the original poster: If you think that the window manager and OS are one and the same... go back to windows. Linux will hold no advantage for you...

    If you can't figure out how to mail me, don't.
  • I thought that, being a government agency, unless there was some kind of national security motivation, that software generated by them must be put in the public domain.

    That's how it is when I worked at the Bonneville Power Administration. I got to take home all the code I worked on, because it was done on goverment dime.

    If you can't figure out how to mail me, don't.
  • I meant radiation hardened, of course.

    If you can't figure out how to mail me, don't.
  • This seems to be a request for proposals, if I read the article correctly. In other words, NASA is providing potential suppliers with a general list of requirements, OS being among them.

    Since Linux is one of several acceptible operating systems, they may or may not make the cut. A lot will depend on how well the OS meets the other expectations.

    This seems the proper way of going about it -- define the problems to be solved, and see what is out there that can solve those problems.

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington