According to an announcement on NASA's website, the ISS lost all communication with controllers and others on the ground at about 9:45 a.m. Eastern. Communication was restored as of 12:34 p.m. Eastern, according to Johnson Space Center.
The computer that controls critical station functions faulted over to a backup computer during the upgrade so that those functions could continue to be performed, but the system was no longer communicating with NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, a series of geosynchronous satellites used to facilitate communication between spacecraft and NASA's ground stations.
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During the communication break, space station commander Col. Kevin Ford was able to briefly radio the ground as the station passed over ground stations in Russia with news that the station and its astronauts were all safe and that other than the communication problem, systems were generally operating normally. "Everybody's in good shape," Ford said in audio posted to NASA's website.
In the hours before the software upgrade, Canadian astronaut and current ISS resident Chris Hadfield, who recently hosted an online interview on Reddit from the space station, mentioned the software upgrade on Twitter, but claimed in his Tweet that "[n]othing could possibly go wrong."
Although NASA hasn't yet fully pinpointed the cause of the communication error, the space agency in late January launched the new Tracking and Data Relay Satellite K (TDRS-K), representing the first upgrade to the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System since 2002. At the time of the launch, NASA officials called the launch the beginning of an effort to "replenish our aging space network." The ISS is a $100 billion-plus multinational space laboratory that began construction in 1998 and was first manned in 2000. The station contains a number of pressurized chambers including numerous cargo bays, docking ports, laboratories and a number of other elements such as robotic arms, battery units and solar arrays.
Six astronauts are currently on board the ISS, including Ford, Hadfield, Tom Mashburn and Russian crewmembers Oleg Novitiskiy, Evgeny Tarelkin and Roman Romanenko.
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