Astronauts Work On Space Station Fix After Computer Glitch - InformationWeek

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6/14/2007
06:55 PM
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Astronauts Work On Space Station Fix After Computer Glitch

Those at the international space station continued to conserve power Thursday, while NASA administrators made contingency plans.

Russian flight controllers continued working Thursday to fix problems with backup navigation computers for the International Space Station.

NASA reported that the navigation computers, which crashed earlier this week, were restored briefly Thursday. Those at the space station continued to conserve power Thursday, while NASA administrators made contingency plans to extend the shuttle's stay or to cut short astronauts' visit aboard the space station, a move administrators said was unlikely.

Engineers weren't sure what caused the navigation computers to fail. The problems began after astronauts replaced solar panels that help power the station. Solar panels and computer problems also were to blame for the loss of the Mars Global Surveyor oribiter, though there was no indication this week that the latest problems were related.

However, the loss of the orbiter does illustrate the potential seriousness of problems related to solar panel arrays, computer programming, navigation, or communication.

About two months ago, NASA blamed the failure and disappearance of its Mars orbiter on human error and dead batteries. During a life span that lasted about 10 years, the orbiter photographed the landscape of the Mars and found evidence of water.

In November 2006, NASA transmitted commands to the orbiter, through its Deep Space Network, in an attempt to move the solar arrays away from the sun. Alarms went off, indicating that one array drive was stuck and rotating freely. An engineer figured out that programmers updating the systems had written commands to the wrong memory address in the Mars Global Surveyor's onboard computer.

The discrepancy caused a problem with a solar array, causing the spacecraft to go into contingency mode, exposing batteries to direct sunlight and overheating, and battery depletion. A second parameter error caused an antenna to rotate away from Earth, blocking communications.

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