Riding off into the sunset

I’m old enough to remember the Mercury and Gemini launches, and I vividly remember being spellbound by the black-and-white images of the first steps on the moon in 1969. I held my breath today for longer than I thought I possibly could when I watched the final launch in the Space Shuttle program, just as I have done with every such launch since January 28, 1986.

This picture of Mission Control from today’s launch of the Shuttle Atlantis is so rich with detail, one hardly knows where to start.

Nasa XP large

There’s the big bank of analog clocks in the upper left. An awful lot of engineering workstations, all facing in the same direction. And on those three giant screens you can practically trace the evolution of PC technology, with text-based console windows and graphics that would have been only slightly far out in the original Tron.

But the detail I found most interesting is at the bottom of that third screen.


That is, unmistakably, the Windows XP Start button and taskbar.

The Space Shuttle program has lasted an unusually long time. So has XP.

In both cases, the underlying technology is showing its age and probably should have been retired a few years ago. But hey, it still works!

As this report in the Huntsville Times noted, An Xbox 360 has far more power than the flight computer:

The flight computer aboard the space shuttle has less than one percent of the power of an Xbox 360 game console. Astronauts load programs directing the phases of a mission – liftoff, orbit, landing – into the computer one at a time after removing the program for the previous segment. Why hasn’t NASA upgraded the computer? The agency values its 30-year history of reliability. That said, astronauts don’t go into space with only one computer. Crew laptops and other laptops also make the trip.

This is a farewell mission for the space program. It’s also a nice milestone on XP’s trajectory toward retirement.

If you’re curious about how much longer XP will be supported, download the Windows XP End Of Support Countdown Gadget, which neatly keeps track of it on a PC running Windows 7 or Vista. Here’s where it stands now.


Safe travels, Atlantis.

Thanks to Brendan Morgan (@nutterguy on Twitter) for the screen grab.

5 thoughts on “Riding off into the sunset

  1. Launch control at the Cape is also using Windows XP (second screen from the left): http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasahqphoto/5727096048/sizes/o

    JPL in Pasadena seems to still be a UNIX shop. I guess you’d expect this from academics. The projected screens show Motif-like window chrome. I also see what could be a CDE dock on several of the workstations. http://www.flickr.com/photos/droopydog/3648173446/sizes/o

    I still think Microsoft’s failure to win over the academics was their greatest oversight. It may be a small market, but it’s an influential one. By letting Interix wither, Microsoft allowed Mac OS X to make inroads.

  2. Tom: Don’t tell me about academies after spending about $250 over the last two years for Office 2010 for my grand kids to attend the University.

  3. XP came to exsistance at a very interesting time in the history of technology. It hit the doors when PCs finally started being used EVERYWHERE. Not just by groups that could afford computers, but by just about everyone. This is why we see such a proliferation of XP in science and similar programs. Sure it will eventually be replaced, but only when new programs start up. And we haven’t seen a lot of those with the economy the way it has been the last few years. Some day in the future we’ll see machines running Windows 7, which will seem old and outdated, but ultimately the OS of choice when that particular program started up.

  4. Considering where we started…
    The original computer for the Shuttle was the AP-101. It consisted of a 50# CPU and a 50# I/O unit and was adapted from the fly by wire computer used in the FB-111. There were 5 sets of these heavy beasts in the shuttle (four for Primary Flight Systems and one Backup Flight System). The 4 Primary Flight System computers all ran the same program developed by IBM and then at regular interval would all stop and compare answers (vote). Anybody not having the correct answer was voted out and as long as there were three remaining the flight could continue. If there were two PFS failures then the rule was to revert to BFS (software developed by Intermetrics) and abort. Given that there were no tow trucks in space (still isn’t) this double backup was like having a RAID6 plus one other fall back position. Remember this was when IBM XT was just coming onto the market and Commodore 64 ruled the day and UNIX was still best represented by TOPS on a big DEC. It was also the only time I ever saw magnetic core memory. Sadly the Avionics Development Lab (ADL) at Rockwell Space Div in Downey, CA is no more, condemned I hear for earthquake safety reasons!

Comments are closed.