Although they were able to reboot them yesterday, the Russian modules’ computers on board the International Space Station (ISS) shut down once again and remained inoperable on Friday, and the root of their malfunction has so far eluded ground control and astronauts, report The Associated Press and other news agencies.
If the computers cannot be permanently rebooted, the ISS would have to be abandoned, as the computers control the altitude and recycling systems, affecting the astronauts’ food and water supplies. If the ISS is abandoned, it could either come crashing down on the Earth somewhere, sometime, or just drift away into the reaches of space.
The six computers in question, which were made under contract with Daimler in Germany, have resisted attempts to repair them. At one point on Thursday evening it looked as if the problem had been solved, but the computers soon enough shut down again and have not been revived since. They shut down right after astronauts from the Atlantis installed new trusses to the ISS via a spacewalk to give the space station more power.
However, authorities remain very confident that the malfunctions will be resolved.
“The lives of the crew are not in danger,” Valery Lyndin, the spokesman for Russia’s Mission Control outside Moscow, told the AP. As of yet, there are no plans to evacuate the crew of three astronauts.
“Don’t get up tomorrow and expect it all to be working. [But the engineers are] making good progress to resolving this issue,” Michael T. Suffredini, the Space Station programme manager, said at a briefing for reporters on Thursday, as reported by Vnunet.
Russian engineers now feel that the problem is likely to be newly installed wiring that is sending out “noise” and interfering with the computers’ electromagnetic fields. However, as of yet they are unable to pinpoint which wiring is causing the “noise”, if that is indeed the problem.
“We’ve had computer failures before, and we have coped with the problem, but now the situation is much more complicated. We have the ((Atlantis)) docked to the station, and active work is going on at the station – the Americans’ space walk. We must maintain the station’s orientation,” cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov said on NTV television, as reported by the AP.
“We have enough time to calmly deal with the situation. There is no need to rush,” added Russian Mission Control chief Vladimir Solovyov.”We are in a stable configuration. We’ve got a challenge. We’ll figure out a way to get this behind us. We’ve got time. [There is] an extremely remote chance that this problem will lead to abandoning the space station,” NASA associate administrator for space operations Bill Gerstenmaier told a news conference in Houston, Texas, as quoted by France 24.
“The leading theory today is perhaps there is some noise, either environmental, radiative noise or a conductive noise, maybe in the power lines, that is causing the computers to shut themselves down,” Mike Sufredini, director of the ISS, told France 24.
NASA and its Russian ground control counterparts continued to try to pinpoint the interfering wiring on Friday as Atlantis crew members prepared for the third spacewalk of their mission.
Vnunet, “Fears grow over Space Station computers”
Associated Press, “Cause of computer breakdown on international space station still unknown: Russian official”
France 24, “Computer woes plague International Space Station”