ThinkPads, Astronauts, and Robots

Lightest ThinkPad ever?

The space shuttle launched today on what may be its final mission. It's hard to believe that the maiden flight took place way back in 1981. Coincidentally, it was the same year the first IBM personal computer was launched. A lot has certainly happened in the world since then not only in space exploration, but also computer technology.  The space program was, and continues to be, a source of pride for many people throughout the world. I for one, am very proud that our ThinkPad has been aboard for the Space Shuttle ride since 1993. The first ThinkPad in space was a rugged 750 that flew on the Endeavour during a mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Mission accomplished. Qualifying for space travel is a very difficult task for people, but also the equipment they bring on board. NASA has an extensive battery of durability, g-force, and weightless environment tests that ThinkPad met with flying colors. I'm not surprised. 

I wish my title was as cool as this

Looks like the brand name of a fine Russian vodka

Connected to our long relationship with NASA, I had the good fortune of meeting  Colonel T.J. Creamer, one of their astronauts. I still have his business card in my desk drawer. It's not often that you meet someone who has the title "Astronaut".  The back of the card is translated into Russian. Hard to imagine exchanging business cards with  comrade in space, but I guess it happens. His name even sounded like he should be an astronaut. I gave T.J. a tour of the design center on several occasions. Towards the end each tour he would always ask to see the "secret stuff "we were working on. Of course I obliged. How can you resist a request like that from a real astronaut?  He returned the favor by sending me a nice autographed portrait inscribed with "David, You have the best job in the galaxy!!!".  He was a super guy, and full of witty space oriented remarks. T.J. went on to log a total of 163 days in space.

Robonaut2 faces off with an astronaut colleague

I also think that it's quite poetic that aboard this last flight will also be a robot. My ThinkPad design friends in Japan will be thrilled. All Japanese have a very special interest and emotional connection to robots. Tom Takahashi wrote a fascinating blog on this topic for me a few years ago, you can read it here. Named the Robonaut2, R2 for short, it has a striking resemblance to some of the most famous robots in history. I especially admire the golden head, or is it a helmet? The core idea behind the Robonaut series is to have a humanoid machine work alongside astronauts. Its form factor and dexterity are designed such that Robonaut can use space tools and work in similar environments to suited astronauts. NASA has a great video about R2. I wonder if R2 will be issued a ThinkPad for the mission? David Hill