The contractor that manages computers for the International Space Station (ISS) has announced that the orbiting project is now running Debian Linux on its laptop fleet having successfully jettisoned Windows XP.

Although the move has been planned for some time, the announcement from six weeks ago was so low-key that few noticed the momentus event until it was picked up from the United Space Alliance’s website last week.

The PCs in question are the International Space Station’s ‘OpsLAN’ laptop network used by crew for everything from collecting imagery to running day-to-day functions such as tracking the Space Station's position.

This ISS is a complex environment that already runs several Linux distros but its family of several dozen laptops will now run only Debian 6.

As for the decision to lose Windows, it seems not every organisation is having trouble with XP migration.

“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,” said Keith Chuval of USA.

USA had turned to The Linux Foudation for training, he said.

“USA/NASA is as heterogeneous as it gets. They had a heavy Debian Linux deployment but also various versions of RHEL/CentOS. Because our training is flexible to a variety of distributions, we’re able to address all those different environments in a single training session. No other training organisation can provide that,” he said.

With the ISS and its support services are now in an all-Linux state, the organisation plans to press ahead with another piece of Linux-driven technology, the Robonaut (R2), a robot-like humanoid designed to carry out activities outside the ISS considered too dangerous for crew.

“Things really clicked after we came to understand how Linux views the world, the interconnectedness of how one thing affects another. You need that worldview. I have quite a bit of Linux experience, but to see others who were really getting it, that was exciting,” concluded Chuvala.

In truth the chances of moving to a more recent version of Windows were always non-existent given the widespread use of Linux in the organisation. But incidents such as the embarrassing July 2008 malware infection that saw the W32.Gammima.AG worm infect an orbiting Windows laptop won't have helped Microsoft's cause.