In many videos of the ISS, you can see tethered laptops all over the place. Presumably these are heavily customised for space. What kinds of customisation do they need? Are they off-the-shelf laptops with customisations for space-worthiness or custom-built hardware? What OS do they run?


2 Answers 2


Astronauts interact with the onboard systems on ISS via laptops, categorized into the Portable Computer System (PCS) and Station Support Computer (SSC).

The firsts provide the interface with the ship’s computer systems while the others are used for office and personal tasks.

From the Lenovo blog (march 20, 2012)

• ThinkPad is the only laptop certified for use on the International Space Station (ISS).

• ThinkPads have been used aboard the International Space Station since 1998.

• ThinkPads have been on every NASA Shuttle space flight since 1995, when the ThinkPad 755 blasted off with the crew.

• ThinkPad laptops are used by all the major world space agencies (e.g., JAXA, ESA) thanks to their partnership with NASA.

• Some tests ThinkPads have to pass before they lift off: radiation testing, off-gas testing, thermal testing, fire & fire suppression.

• Number of ThinkPads aboard the International Space Station: more than 60.

• Number of NASA shuttle flights that have lifted off with ThinkPads aboard: more than 50.

and this link is about software: astronauts in future will use Debian 6 moving from Windows and Scientific Linux

If you wish more details you can read also:

  • $\begingroup$ Some pictures show IBM laptops, which are older than the A31(p). Besides, there appears to be some non-IBM stuff, which is controlling some equipment ... $\endgroup$
    – s-m-e
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 22:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ernestopheles Are you sure they're part of the actual control systems for the ISS? Crew members can bring their personal laptops up for when they're not on duty, and are free to use whatever they want. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ "We have a significantly large network on board the Station, comprising 68 IBM ThinkPad A31 laptops and 32 Lenovo ThinkPad T61p devices", according to Tyson Tucker and Joey Crawford, the ISS IT controllers, that was in 2009. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ Have they updated to the new style keyboard on the newer thinkpads? $\endgroup$
    – William
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 1:08

For several years now the HP ZBook-15 Generation 2 has been the predominant model in use on the ISS. HP is up to Generation 8 for the ZBook now, so you can see that NASA gets a lot of mileage (literally!) out of a model once it's been selected.

There are surprisingly few modifications needed to suit the environment in which they use these laptops. For the most part, these are very similar to high-end laptops you can purchase for personal or corporate use.

Multiple operating systems are used on these machines. Probably not too surprising, the two most prevalent are Windows and Linux.

Here's a picture (credit NASA) of astronaut Jessica Meir at the robotics workstation where you can see 5 ZBook laptops in use, in addition to the dedicated robotics displays.

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