At space station, NASA plans spacewalk to repair computer outage

April 12

NASA has ordered spacewalking repairs for a serious computer outage on the international space station.

A backup computer for some robotic systems failed Friday. The main computer is fine and the six-man crew is safe, NASA said, but the malfunction puts next week’s supply run in jeopardy.

Mission managers agreed Saturday that a spacewalk is needed to replace the bad computer. But officials want one more day before deciding whether the situation is safe enough in orbit to proceed with Monday’s SpaceX launch as planned.

NASA promised to decide Sunday whether to delay the delivery mission.

No date for the spacewalk has been set; officials indicated that it could occur sometime in the next week or so. The job is among those practiced by the astronauts before flight.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule holds more than two tons of station supplies and science experiments at Cape Canaveral. The shipment is already a month late for unrelated reasons.

If the Dragon soars Monday — launch time is 4:58 p.m. Eastern time — then it would reach the orbiting lab Wednesday.

Flight controllers want to make sure enough redundancy exists at the space station before committing to the launch.

The bad computer, called an MDM or multiplexer-demultiplexer, is among more than a dozen located on the outside of the space station, used to route commands to various systems.

Officials said the failure has had no effect on the scientific and other work being conducted by the astronauts: three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese.

NASA is paying the Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX — Space Exploration Technologies — as well as Orbital Sciences of Dulles to deliver space station goods. Russia, Europe and Japan also perform occasional shipments. The U.S. space shuttles carried up the bulk of station equipment until their retirement in 2011.

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