IBM ThinkPads in space

The IBM ThinkPad A31p

The IBM ThinkPad A31p
IBM ThinkPads first flew aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle on Dec. 2, 1993 on the Shuttle Endeavour's flight to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronauts used the ThinkPads 750s to view color images and sketches of the telescope that were loaded on the computer's hard drive.

The number of IBM ThinkPads used on a typical Space Shuttle mission varies by year. In 1995, the average number used was five, and in 1999 the average number was nine. The year before, however, during John Glenn’s historic return to space (STS-95), the U.S. Senator/astronaut used two of the ThinkPads aboard the Shuttle Discovery for various experiments. Discovery carried 21 of the IBM computers, which broke the existing record for the most ThinkPads flown on a single mission. Most of the ThinkPads were the older 755C model and a few were the newer 760XD model.

Some 54 ThinkPads were launched into space during the five Shuttle flights in 1998. Some of the ThinkPads made multiple flights. In all, IBM ThinkPads have been on at least 31 Shuttle flights in the 20th century and on a few Russian Proton or Soyuz/Progress launches.

Including the ThinkPad 770 that was aboard Mir in February 1999, approximately 10 ThinkPads were used aboard the Russian space station. The United States, European Space Agency, and the Russian Space Agency have all launched ThinkPads as part of separate programs. In 1999 there were three ThinkPad 750C notebooks remaining in the depressurized Russian Spektr module on Mir, and a fourth unit from Spektr was later returned to Earth and repaired. (Mir left orbit in 2001.)

As the 20th century drew to a close, the only notebooks certified for long-term flight on the International Space Station (ISS) were the IBM ThinkPad 760XD and the 755C. Five 76OXDs and one additional 755C were placed on ISS during the May 1999 shuttle mission (STS-96), and another seven 76OXDs and one 755C were delivered on subsequent flights. (In 2003, IBM ThinkPad A31p computers were flown to the International Space Station for in-flight testing. The A31p is scheduled to become the new ISS Portable Computer System, replacing the ThinkPad 760XD.)

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