By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Russian cosmonauts made progress yesterday in restoring service on their essential computers on the international space station, using a jumper cable to bypass a malfunctioning power switch.
Four of the six computer "channels" were restored yesterday afternoon, according to NASA spokeswoman Brandi Dean. She said that it remains unclear whether they will continue to operate but that officials are optimistic.
The main computers in the Russian section of the space station went down early this week, leading to some contingency planning that included the use of a docked Soyuz spaceship to bring the station crew back to Earth. The computers are used for navigating the station, keeping it properly oriented toward the sun, and maintaining safe levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Failure to bring the computers back on line could, over time, force the evacuation of the three-member crew staying in the space station.
But even before the potential afternoon breakthrough, officials said they fully expected to repair the computers, or to find some way to work around their inability to reboot.
"I have no plans to de-man the station," Mike Suffredini, station program manager, said in a briefing. "There is nobody in this agency or the Russian agency that thinks this vehicle is at risk of being lost, not remotely."
Russian officials said on their nation's television yesterday that they were considering an early launch of a Progress cargo spaceship to bring some computer parts up to the station, the Associated Press reported.
The initial problem, said Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of the Russian state-controlled rocket builder RKK Energiya, apparently started with a spike in static electricity while cables were being hooked up to the station's newly installed solar panels. Astronauts with the space shuttle Atlantis connected the new panels Monday.
Russian mission control chief Vladimir Solovyov also said on Russian television that if the navigation system is not fixed, the station's orbit will drop by about 37 miles in the next three months, to about 200 miles above Earth. He said that is not an alarming drop.
"We have enough time to calmly deal with the situation," Solovyov said. "There is no need to rush."
The two computers in the Russian module each have three redundant data "lanes" -- an effort to avoid incorrect results. The computers were manufactured by the German company Daimler-Benz, and donated to the space station by the European Space Agency.
The computer drama overshadowed a spacewalk by two Atlantis crew members, who worked on repairing a thermal blanket that was loosened during launch and on completing the unfurling of the bed of solar panels.
The panels are needed to produce enough power on the $100 billion station to allow for six-member, rather than three-member, crews. Once the power is increased, the shuttle will bring up science labs created by Japan and the European Space Agency.
Astronaut Danny Olivas, while attached to the shuttle's robot arm, tucked the thermal blanket back into place and used a medical stapler to secure it to adjacent blankets. NASA officials were concerned that the dislodged blanket would allow heat to build up during return and potentially harm the shuttle.