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After suffering two serious delays on its mission, the space shuttle
Discovery March 17 docked with the International Space Station to deliver the
final set of solar panel arrays to the orbiting laboratory. Once installed, the
panels will provide the station with full operational power.

Docking between the space station and shuttle, on a mission officially
designated as STS-119, occurred shortly
after 5 p.m. EDT.
The space shuttle, which launched March 16, was initially delayed more than two
days because of a hydrogen fuel leak on the launch pad. After it launched, the
14-hour trip to the International Space Station was made a little longer as the
shuttle had to evade a 4-inch piece of space junk left over from a disabled
Russian satellite.

The space station and shuttle crews will spend the next eight days and at
least three spacewalks installing the 5,000-pound, 230-foot solar arrays. The
arrays are composed of 32,800 solar cells.

While Discovery—on one of its final missions before the shuttle program is
retired by NASA next year—is busy bringing more power to the International
Space Station, Cisco Systems is battling for control of high-tech data systems
here on Earth. By entering the virtualized blade server market, Cisco is
challenging longtime partner Hewlett-Packard for dominance in data center
architecture. More than 200 miles above Earth, Cisco has no chance at unseating
HP from a networking battle it lost more than a year ago.

Since last June, HP has the only piece of commercial networking gear in
orbit. In addition to two redundant LAN
switches built by Astrium, a subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and
Space Company (EADS), HP’s ProCurve 2524 switch is the primary switch
regulating data traffic around the space station’s network.

HP won a three-year competition in which networking gear was exposed to the
simulated conditions and radiation of the space station environment. Switches
by Cisco, D-Link, Avaya, 3Com and NetGear were part of the competition. HP’s
ProCurve 2524 not only won the competition, it didn’t require any special

“Inside the ProCurve Switch 2524, a central switch fabric handles the
majority of tasks, while switches from other manufacturers tend to distribute
across a number of chips,” said Rolf Schmidhuber, Columbus Data Management
System Engineer for EADS Astrium, in a statement last year. “By using
significantly fewer chips on the circuit board, this proved much more
advantageous to us, as the fewer components present, the lower the susceptibility
to radiation and mechanical duress during the launch into space. This was a key
reason why ProCurve beat the competition.”   

While Cisco may be looking to unseat HP in the data centers on terra firma,
there’s little chance that it will do the same in space anytime soon. The HP
ProCurve 2524 aboard the space station has an operational service life
expectancy of 10 years, meaning it won’t be scheduled to come out of service
until 2018 at the earliest.