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Space NASA

An Astronaut's View of Space Station Tech 115

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-can-see-my-house-from-here dept.
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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An Astronaut's View of Space Station Tech

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  • by BC_R3 (1942996) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @11:41AM (#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:IPAD vs Laptop (Score:1, Insightful)

    by internewt (640704) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @11:57AM (#34269732) Journal

    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 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @12:05PM (#34269866) Homepage

    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.

  • by rakuen (1230808) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @12:16PM (#34270034) Homepage
    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.
  • by houghi (78078) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @12:20PM (#34270146)

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

  • Re:IPAD vs Laptop (Score:4, Insightful)

    by e4g4 (533831) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @12:31PM (#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?
  • by Solandri (704621) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @12:50PM (#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:IPAD vs Laptop (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vic.tz (1000138) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @01:18PM (#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 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by c6gunner (950153) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @02:06PM (#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.

  • by dtml-try MyNick (453562) <litheran@@@gmail...com> on Thursday November 18, 2010 @03:53PM (#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..

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