Computer problems delay robot-arm work for second straight day
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – For the second day in a row, astronauts aboard the linked space shuttle Endeavour and international space station had to put off critical robot-arm operations Thursday because of computer problems.
The trouble prompted NASA to extend the shuttle’s space station visit by two days. That second day is contingent on agreement by Russian space officials to delay their upcoming launch to the station.
”We’re looking for that concurrence, and folks down here are working real hard … to make sure that everything is coordinated,” Mission Control informed the shuttle and station crews. ”But right now, that’s our plan.”
Flight controllers were making progress on the mysterious triple-computer shutdown and had one of the machines up and running after working furiously round the clock.
But NASA wanted at least two of the command-and-control computers operating before attempting to move the space station’s newly installed 58-foot robot arm, still clutching its 3,000-pound packing crate that needs to be placed back aboard the shuttle.
The arm could get stuck if only one computer is used for the operation and then fails, said space station flight director John Curry.
”That’s probably not the smartest thing in the world to do if we can help it,” he said.
Without any command-and-control computer, the crate would have to be left on the end of the arm until another shuttle crew arrives in June, Curry said.
Mission Control decided Thursday evening to keep Endeavour docked to space station Alpha for at least two more days, to give engineers more time to bring the two remaining computers back to life and understand what went wrong. The shuttle is now supposed to leave on Monday.
Complicating matters is Saturday’s planned launch of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that is needed at the space station as a fresh lifeboat. The trip to the orbiting outpost takes two days.
The Soyuz launch – featuring the world’s first space tourist, California millionaire Dennis Tito – will have to be delayed at least one day in order for Endeavour to stick around until Monday.
The shuttle and the Soyuz cannot be docked at the space station at the same time, because the approaching Soyuz would come ”uncomfortably close” to Endeavour’s tail, said shuttle flight director Phil Engelauf.
The three command-and-control computers in the space station’s Destiny laboratory began failing, one by one, Tuesday night. The breakdowns caused Mission Control to lose its primary communications link with the space station on Wednesday, and flight controllers had to rely on the shuttle to communicate with Alpha’s crew. The situation remained the same on Thursday.
Flight controllers regained use of one of the computers on Thursday, thanks to software in computers in another U.S. module that kicked in and restarted the disabled machine. The software is called Mighty Mouse, because it can ”save the day.”
On hold – besides all the robot-arm work – were the removal of an Italian-built cargo carrier from the space station and its return to Endeavour’s payload bay, and an orbit-raising maneuver by the shuttle.
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