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Software Bug Causes Soyuz To Land Way Off 573

Posted by timothy
from the in-post-soviet-russia dept.
howhardcanitbetocrea writes "A mysterious software fault in the new guidance computer of the Soyuz TMA-1 spacecraft was the cause of the high-anxiety off-course landing over the weekend, according to NASA sources.' Which is why I will never trust the Strategic Defence Initiative - the star wars project. It only takes one line of mistyped code in what will always be a beta release."
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Software Bug Causes Soyuz To Land Way Off

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  • by TheVidiot (549995) on Monday May 05, 2003 @09:55PM (#5887382) Homepage
    ahhh... it's just too obvious!
  • Mysterious? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by handy_vandal (606174) on Monday May 05, 2003 @09:55PM (#5887383) Homepage Journal
    Software faults are not mysterious -- people are ignorant.
  • by Surak (18578) * <surak.mailblocks@com> on Monday May 05, 2003 @09:56PM (#5887395) Homepage Journal
    Microsoft announced that a patch to "Windows XP for Spacecraft" will be available on Wednesday.

    • I've already got it...

      I can't even lauch my rocket now ...

      I press the launch button and it starts to fire up the engine but then the engine falls of and the rocket breaks apart...

      Do you know when they're going to release the patch for the patch?
  • Russian Engineer: Hey, were you able to find time to convert those figures to metric?
    United States Engineer: Oh, yes!
  • Why single out SDI? (Score:5, Informative)

    by 1984 (56406) on Monday May 05, 2003 @09:57PM (#5887400)
    Which is why I will never trust the Strategic Defence Initiative - the star wars project.

    Or any software. You might want to consider the software all the weapons systems that actually exist first, or anything in a safety-related environment. Take a look at Risks Digest [ncl.ac.uk].

    • Yes but SDI may end up actually sending a laser beam to burn your house down. A FUCKING LASER BEAM!
      • by FredThompson (183335) <`fredthompson' `at' `mindspring.com'> on Monday May 05, 2003 @10:14PM (#5887551)
        Yeah, well, the computer chip in your car would make the engine blow up while you're driving at high speed on a crowded road. THE FUCKING ROAD!!! A traffic signal could go wrong and you could get in an accident. A FUCKING ACCIDENT!!! The guidance system on an airplane could have a glitch and you crash. A FUCKING AIRPLANE!!! The registers in the supermarket use lasers to determine your bill. FUCKING LASER BEAMS!!!

        You're being FUCKING STUPID!!!
        • by pyrrho (167252)
          right... I'd much rather you get hit by a LASER from space than have to deal with a misbehaving traffic light.

          By the way, how can a chip in your car make the engine blow up? Is it like that virus that will format your hard drive and eat all the good leftovers in your fridge and unspay your dog?
          • by budgenator (254554) on Monday May 05, 2003 @11:55PM (#5888209) Journal
            By the way, how can a chip in your car make the engine blow up?
            1. shut off electric fan for radiator.
            2. run engine excessively lean to over heat
            3. leave transmition in first gear
            4. run engine at 9,000 rpm's
            5. continue until engine goes boom crunch, bang bang bang and the connecting rods come out the side of the engine block, and the crankshaft falls on to the pavement.

            Dave?, What are you doing Dave?, you're not mad at me are you Dave? No HAL I'm not mad at you
        • The four things that you mentioned are extremely mature technologies that have been refined through several generations of mass produced products. Space based laser missile defense can never be fully tested (think of Spies Like Us). It will "always be a beta release" says the article poster. Basically, I know that car computers work very well because they've been tested of millions and millions of miles of real world driving. The space based system currently proposed has failed most of the tests perfome
          • by FredThompson (183335) <`fredthompson' `at' `mindspring.com'> on Tuesday May 06, 2003 @12:26AM (#5888347)
            Sigh...ok...here's how I know.

            I've been a missile launch officer and worked on design of these systems while stationed at an agency that Hollywood seems to think is a bunch of hotshot secret agents performing martial arts moves Bruce Lee couldn't have perfected.

            The 6 sigma (or whatever it is) analysis that goes into Space Shuttle stuff doesn't compare to the level of analysis/oversight for these types of systems.

            Major weapons systems include, at least in the U.S. military, design elements commonly referred to as positive control and assurance. Well, similar terms depending on the weapons system.

            These are to make sure the people/systems issuing a comand are the proper ones and also that what is commanded happens.

            There are so many layers of hardware and procedure involving split knowledge, time-sensitive authorization, and configuration compliance that it is nigh impossible for any major system to be activated improperly or on a whim.

            A LOT of thought and attention goes into these systems. Real Genius, War Games, Top Gun, Spies Like Us, etc. were fictional movies. Those don't represent the way things really are any more than Alias shows what the CIA and NSA are really like.

            Sub-systems are tested for everything, just as they are for other major endeavors like a new car design.

            There certainly comes a time of first use for any system. ALL our weapons systems are thoroughly tested before they're actually used. The missiles whose keys I controlled as a laungh officer were the same type that were test-launched from Vandenberg AFB a number of times. Had we ever launched one directly at some Soviet base to see if it would really work? No. Does that mean it wouldn't? No.

            The basic premise that because something hasn't been done it is inherently impossible to predict what will happen just doesn't make sense. Every day the overwhelming majority of things you do have never happened before in the histoyr of human existance. (You've never put that pen to that piece of paper in exactly that manner, etc.)

            Having said all of that, I agree that ICBMs and, to a lesser extent, SLBMs are not the most likely form of attack. A space-based system DOES, however, provide a focussed developmental environment for a huge number of technologies that would be very helpful for any kind of strategic interception.

            Don't forget, the race to put a man on the moon didn't yield any direct economic profit (we're not selling lunar masonry products, for example) nor does basic research.
            • by enkidu (13673) on Tuesday May 06, 2003 @02:26AM (#5888815) Homepage Journal
              What you're talking about is component level testing. Unfortunately, all that testing doesn't substitute for a true "shakedown" integration test. Look up the AEGIS cruiser system (actually sort of a mini-SDI for a ship). On it's first full integration test, it failed to shoot down 6 out of 17 targets due to software errors. Now, make the integrated platform 2 orders of magnitude more complicated than that (and at least one order of magnitude more complicated than ANY software project attempted to date) and you can see why I'm skeptical of the chances of SDI working as advertised.
            • by hughk (248126)
              I have sat down and talk with some military about the technology they use. It is generally somewhat behind the times, because of the extensive test procedure it has to go through. However, never underestimate the stupidity of a tired/bored person in the middle of the night - whether civillian or military. Procedures help, but they don't address all problems especially when in a hurry. Think of the accidental destruction of civillian flights. Most technology in the field requires extensive modifications, sim
              • by FredThompson (183335) <`fredthompson' `at' `mindspring.com'> on Tuesday May 06, 2003 @05:09AM (#5889234)
                yoru first comment, I can't be too direct about this but I'll try to explain with an example you can test yourself. Some ATM machines have a time delay mechanism when they eject the user's card. If the card sits in the reader too long, it is pulled back in and the account locked until a bank person resets everything. That's an example of hardware enforcing procedure. Initiating a national asset weapons includes a series of steps, personal actions and hardware requirements that must be done in a specific order for it to work.

                Uh...which generation of Pattiot? Do you know what it was originally designed to do? Scud-busting was an admitted quick hack.

                The current generation, used in Iraq the past month, did do what it was supposed to. The jets it knocked down failed IFF interrogation so that makes them targets.

                wrt, falling debris. Well, duh. Why wouldn't that exist and have a potential to create soem kind of damage? If something's in the air and it blows up, pieces fall down. That's true of everything. Heck, I shot a duck once and shot came back to Earth, so did the dead duck.

                The assumption that "SDI" is only effective during what is considered a boost phase only makes sense if you think it's impossible to detect/track/target/destroy MIRVs. As far as being more difficult to destroy during the re-entry phase, why? Wouldn't they be generating a lot of heat? Might be easier to detect then?

                Why assume a missile would be an alley-oop, over the top lob and not a low-flying cruise?

                wrt test firings of ICBMs, sure LAUNCH was tested under very controlled conditions. Those only flew a short distance, were unarmed, and flew west from the California coast. Find a map that shows magnetic anomalies. AFAIK, none have been fired over the North Pole. That's a heck of a lot different than crews in the field knowing they have real weapons and the only launch orders that come in that environment are real. So...they haven't been "tested" as much, in that regard, as you might think.

                SDI, the term, is a little outdated and if you try to limit it to 20-year-old concepts and technologies, you'll be misleading yourself.

                Everything about the moon program was NOT civilian and was NOT publicly available. It still isn't.

                There were some intercepts that were faked during the Reagan era. Heck of a payoff those had, huh? Soviet Union collapsed because they knew they couldn't compete. In that regard, the system WAS successful. (Sun Tzu: the goal is to get the enemy to surrender without having to fight...) Same with those $600 toilet seats. ("Komrade, they have these huge money scandals and still completely outclass us, we can't compete.")

                I'm not excusing graft, just trying to illustrate a point.

                Lots of things were screwed up on the Bradley project, too. (There's a really cool movie about that, forget the name.) As I recall, the M-16 was also a real mess at first.

                Your conclusion has a number of statements for which you have no validation. It's based on a hypothetical future condition so, by definition, there's no way to state what the outcome will be. history has shown the exact opposite of what you claim to be true. Surface mount electronics, GPS, fiber optics, etc., etc., etc. all come from technologies the military needed. Why would anything based in space be different?

                FWIW, and I know this will irk anyone who has a dogmatic hatred of the military, the first real historic use machining tools and practices was to make uniform firearms. Everything came from that. So, basically, all the quality controla nd manufacturing processes we use, outside hand operations, trace their roots to military needs.
    • Not really to nit-pick, but the current plan for SDI does not involve "lasers." The curren plan is to fire a missle at the incoming nuclear delivery system. So instead of a laser frying your house, you have to worry about a missle. Basically, the anti-missle missle will level your house and then the nuke will level the rubble that was your house.
    • by Doppler00 (534739) on Monday May 05, 2003 @10:46PM (#5887765) Homepage Journal
      Which is why I will never trust the Strategic Defence Initiative

      And yet, you think I would want to put all my trust the sanity of other world leaders to not fire nuclear weapons at the U.S.?

      There is nothing unsafe about a defensive nuclear missle. The key term here is "defence initiative". If the worst case scenerio happens that a weapon is fired at the U.S. at least there is some better chance of attacking the missle before it reaches the U.S. instead of sitting back watching the light show.

      I don't understand why people doubt the technological capability of scientists and engineers to create a defensive system. With the amazing advancements in computers and science, this is just another advancement in technology.
      • "And yet, you think I would want to put all my trust the sanity of other world leaders to not fire nuclear weapons at the U.S.?"

        I think I may be able to ease your mind about this a bit. Here try this exercize.

        Take a piece of paper and draw a line going down the middle (vertically). On the left hand side make a list of all the countries that have nuclear weapons. On the right hand list all the countries that have actually used nuclear weapons in war.

        Now state at that paper for a few minutes till it sinks
        • by broken_bones (307900) on Tuesday May 06, 2003 @02:07AM (#5888759)
          I think it would be unfair to single out the United States in the way you suggest. If Britain, Russia (USSR), France, Germany or Japan had possed nuclear weapons during the second world war do you think they would have hesitated to use them? We must remember that the human carnage in WWII was imense. Russia alone lost literally millions of people. Given that do you think they really would have cared about killing a few hundred thousand of the enemy's citizens? When Japan or Germany were facing their ultimate demise do you think that they would have hesitated to use a nuclear weapons if they had them?

          Debating whether using the bomb was the right thing to do or not is fine. However I don't think that a case can be made that the US is somehow "worse" or "different" than anyone else for using nuclear weapons. Had any other nation possesed the bomb at that time I don't think they would have hesitated to use it.
          • Maybe you are right but then again maybe you are wrong. I don't think you can even pretend to know what others would have done if they had the chance. Certainly it wasn't long after we dropped our bombs that other countries obtained theirs, they had many chances to use them since then and did not do so.

            "When Japan or Germany were facing their ultimate demise do you think that they would have hesitated to use a nuclear weapons if they had them?"

            When Saddam Hussein was facing his ultimate demise he did not
            • by JimPooley (150814)
              When Saddam Hussein was facing his ultimate demise he did not use weapons of mass destruction even though he is a madmen.

              Well, that could just be because Bush is a lying fucker and Saddam didn't have any weapons of mass destruction...
      • by g4dget (579145)
        And yet, you think I would want to put all my trust the sanity of other world leaders to not fire nuclear weapons at the U.S.?

        Yes, I want you to put your trust into the general sanity of other nations. Not "all" your trust, but enough trust not to hunker like a paranoid xenophobe under some supposedly impenetrable shield. And not "all" nations--there are going to be rogue nations. And the US should put sufficient trust in the rest of the world that if the US were to be attacked, alliances like NATO wou

      • by Vicegrip (82853) on Tuesday May 06, 2003 @02:55AM (#5888909) Journal
        The best nuclear weapon shield will be hard put at defending itself against an attack that uses brute force to overcome it.

        I couldn't believe my ears a few weeks ago when I heard Richard Perle making the amazing claim that the U.S. would always be safe having a shield because no other country in the world would ever have the technology/money to build one themselves.

        It is an act of stupid arrogance to believe that the U.S. will always have superior technology compared to the other powers in the word-- I'm sure the Romans thought their military engines would protect them forever too.

        Further, one only needs see how just how sensitive and volatile high tech has been in the last few years during times of economic difficulty. Our innovation is tightly tied to economic growth. In three years we've seen massive reversals in the tech industry. Is it not incomprehensibly foolish to fail to consider the possiblity that one day the U.S. won't be the world's bastion of growth or technological progress?

        Indeed, the pillars of today's technology: IBM, Microsoft, Sun etc... already farm out technological work to 3rd world countries around the world-- ideed, the U.S. doesn't even manufacturer a large part of the electronic components it uses.

        I despair that, even though the U.S. absolutely crushed an army once ranked 5th in the world, we're still getting told we need more military protection, more spending in weapons research, and a big shield to protect us from their nasty missles--- this when arms races have universally shown themselves to be precursors to major warfare throughout the history of mankind.

        We don't need more military. We need competent politicians of principle and vision who can think beyond warfare to solve the problems of the world.
    • by nihilogos (87025)
      I believe most critical software like this is formally verified. I know nothing about formal verification other than the basic idea which is to mathematically "prove" that software will work as intended.

  • ah, right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MattW (97290) <matt@ender.com> on Monday May 05, 2003 @09:57PM (#5887404) Homepage
    It only takes one line of mistyped code in what will always be a beta release.

    That's right. Better to have never tried at all than to try and fail, I always say.
    • Re:ah, right (Score:2, Insightful)

      by vandan (151516)
      The poster was referring to the problems associated with a software bug in Baby Bush's Star Wars project. In this case, failure could mean mass extinctions.
    • Re:ah, right (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Ian Bicking (980) <ianb@c[ ]rstudy.com ['olo' in gap]> on Monday May 05, 2003 @10:21PM (#5887597) Homepage
      The point is you can never test SDI, because you are working against an opponent that is consciously trying to work around your system. You can never predict how the attack with occur. Then you can never simulate the attack, even as you might predict it -- you can never launch empty missiles at a realistic target. Instead at best you do tests over the ocean. That's why it will always be in beta, which is not a useful status for a safeguard.

      But more concerning is the fact that despite their effort they cannot pass even their minimal tests, and resort to fraud instead. We have tried, and failed. The whole thing is military graft -- money being sent down a pit to profit defense companies. They probably hope to cover up the failure of the system by avoiding any real-world test of the system, though certainly avoiding having missiles launched at the US is a good goal regardless.

  • Tried to browse pluto, and got back ""???
  • This sounds similar to the crash landing one of the mars spacecraft had when the operators forgot to convert English units to metric units.

    You'd think that in such operations, where you only ever get one chance, they would have the most error free systems possible. I'm surprised they didn't feed the computer simulated data and found where it would take them.

    • by s20451 (410424) on Monday May 05, 2003 @10:15PM (#5887562) Journal

      You'd think that in such operations, where you only ever get one chance, they would have the most error free systems possible.

      They do go to great lengths to remove the errors. In fact the Challenger investigation singled out the methods used for validating the shuttle's software as a model for the other parts of the program to follow in improving safety. Also, the article said that the backup system kicked in automatically and led to a safe, albeit off-target, landing. So in fact the overall system worked as expected.

      And as for the "big mistakes", it's very easy to point fingers afterward and boil a problem down to a catch phrase. However, engineers aren't idiots; almost all accidents involving spacecraft are a result of a long string of seemingly innocuous miscommunications, coincidences, and bad luck. Consider the story of the Ariane 5 [around.com], which was destroyed because of an overlooked feature in a piece of code reused from a smaller rocket. No software engineer can say that they haven't made a similar mistake.


    • You'd think that in such operations, where you only ever get one chance, they would have the most error free systems possible.

      Given the track record of the Soyuz vehicles, I'd say they're pretty damned error-free, all things considered.

  • Great... (Score:5, Funny)

    by DCowern (182668) * on Monday May 05, 2003 @09:59PM (#5887415) Homepage

    Now we have frikken astronauts beating up on poor anonymous software developpers... quoth the article

    There was also the real possibility of crew error, and on Sunday, the head of the corporation that builds and operates the Soyuz spacecraft, Yuriy Semyonov, suggested that "one of the Americans" had pushed the backup-mode activation button. Bowersox was the only American who had any active role in the descent (it was astronaut Donald Pettit's job to follow the checklists), and he denied touching the button -- which, he joked, was being guarded carefully by Russian cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin. "We don't think we did anything to cause that to happen," he later said to a NASA press official.

    Yeah... right... if I had a nickle for every time I heard an end user say something similar to that ("I swear I didn't touch anything... it just... crashed..." or "The files just... disappeared! Gone! Disappeared! I didn't do anything!") I'd have...well...a lot of nickles...

    /me mumbles bittlerly and goes back into his development hole :P

    • Re:Great... (Score:4, Informative)

      by sean23007 (143364) on Monday May 05, 2003 @11:31PM (#5888055) Homepage Journal
      From the Moscow Times:
      The Energia engineer noted that one of the astronauts "pushed a wrong button" while the capsule was still in orbit, but he insisted that this could not have affected the descent. He said Mission Control noticed the error and corrected it before it could have done any damage.
      So it really wasn't the astronaut's fault, at least according to the Russians.
  • SDI? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Tailhook (98486) on Monday May 05, 2003 @09:59PM (#5887420)
    "Which is why I will never trust the Strategic Defence Initiative - the star wars project"

    Strategic Defence Initiative = the star wars project

    What was the thinking behind clarifying that to the Slashdot crowd?

    Microprocessor, main processing unit of your computer...
  • by helix400 (558178) on Monday May 05, 2003 @10:01PM (#5887441) Journal
    Talk about your flaming articles

    Its fine to discuss a bug in a new Russian guidance system...but to immediately jump into a hot political topic like the SDI star wars system and then vastly overgeneralize it with "It'll never work, because it relies on computers" shouldn't have any place in this story.
    • Oh the horror!

      Someone got a story posted to Slashdot that contained anti-Bush propaganda.

      You wouldn't last long at http://www.kuro5hin.org [kuro5hin.org]
    • Better Question (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Monday May 05, 2003 @10:50PM (#5887797)
      Does the sawed-off shotgun in the Souyz capsule to fight off wolves violate the provisions that demiliterize space?

      http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/space/05/05/soyuz.l an dings.ap/index.html

      "In 1976, a Soyuz spacecraft came down in a freezing squall and splashed into a lake; the crew spent the night bobbing in the capsule.

      Eleven years before that, two cosmonauts overshot their touchdown site by 2,000 miles and found themselves deep in a forest with hungry wolves. That's when Russian space officials decided to pack a sawed-off shotgun aboard every spacecraft."

      If they can launch a shotgun hundreds of times, then why can't the US launch some lasers?
    • New here? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MondoMor (262881)
      In order to get a story submitted, it must have a snide remark or overgeneralization. Articles that aren't flamebait are boring, apparently. Especially with timothy and michael picking the stories. Those two horse's asses are the biggest trolls and FUDders on Slashdot. CmdrTaco is up there too, though he just likes to post duplicate stories (can't bother reading his own site) and whine about SPAM.
  • by peacefinder (469349) <alan,dewitt&gmail,com> on Monday May 05, 2003 @10:01PM (#5887443) Journal
    "Which is why I will never trust the Strategic Defence Initiative - the star wars project. It only takes one line of mistyped code in what will always be a beta release."

    Well, let's hope it stays in beta. Real world testing would be a major bummer!
  • by WIAKywbfatw (307557) on Monday May 05, 2003 @10:02PM (#5887448) Journal
    "...high-anxiety off-course landing..."

    Any landing that you can walk away from is a good landing. Especially when you're talking about a manned re-entry vehicle.

    Lest we forget, the last time an Earth-bound crew were returning from space their orbiter disintegrated and all seven astronauts were killed. Landing a couple of hundred miles off course and having to wait two hours for groundside assistance is a small price to pay for a safe return.

  • by Badge 17 (613974) on Monday May 05, 2003 @10:03PM (#5887456)
    TMA-1? (Must suppress Arthur C. Clarke-inspired giggle).

    Maybe the problem was in that gigantic magnetic field wiping some data... (TMA stands for Tycho Magnetic Anomaly, aka the monolith in 2001)

    I think the next spacecraft (TMA-2) should be nicknamed "big brother."
  • By your logic I will never drive my car again. It's got so many embedded controllers and runs so much code that I could never trust it. Plus, it was written by evil capitalists and isn't under the GPL, so it obviously can't be reliable.

    What total bullshit!
  • by Hao Wu (652581) on Monday May 05, 2003 @10:10PM (#5887511) Homepage
    You sit behind a computer and critisize other computer people. You say things like, "Oh. Programmers sent our space men hurtling toward their firey grave."

    Look at the facts. Not one space man perished in this. Space men have only died in shuttle disasters, such as in 1986 and also a few months ago. Nobody died from this Russian misfortune. Every man is OK.

    Don't critisize so quickly, lest YOU get the same treatment.
  • Which is why I will never trust the Strategic Defence Initiative - the star wars project. It only takes one line of mistyped code in what will always be a beta release

    Irrelevant. SDI, then and now, is a proven way to fund some basic research. The public is not that interested in science except to counter a perceived threat.

    FWIW with your attitude we would not have the F16, F18 (?), F117, B2, and the various other aircraft with fly-by-wire control systems. The space shuttle too. Also do you think 'bet
  • Classic! (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by twitter (104583)
    the button -- which, he joked, was being guarded carefully by Russian cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin. "We don't think we did anything to cause that to happen," ..."They didn't do anything," MSNBC.com was told. "[They] just let the auto system control."

    Sure thing, Captian Squiming Hatchblower. "It just blew." Could be, stranger things have happened. Wouldn't you know a software bug would be blamed when something unexpected happens on a capsule manned with one trained cosmonaut and two passengers who might be

  • Which is why... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Tailhook (98486)
    Why lie like that? If your views on things controversial causes your knee to jerk given the slightest opportunity, why cloak your views in nonsense paranoia about software reliability? Shame? Really. Messed up Soviet era guidance is supposed to be a credible reason to not build a missile defense?

    If you have a problem with military spending, western arrogance, corporate corruption, capitalism, stupid Texan presidencies or whatever, then go find an appropriate forum for it and post there. Don't mess all
  • TMA? (Score:5, Funny)

    by quantaman (517394) on Monday May 05, 2003 @10:27PM (#5887635)
    A mysterious software fault in the new guidance computer of the Soyuz TMA-1 spacecraft was the cause of the high-anxiety off-course landing over the weekend, according to NASA sources.'

    Of course it had problems! The ships AI was given conflicting instructions which told it not to tell the crew about the mysterious monolith on the moon the ISS is really put up there to observe! Just be glad neither of them had to go EVA and repair the AE-35 unit...

  • captain: +16 degrees, HAL.
    computer: +60 it is.
    (short pause while traveling at mach 25)
    captain: oh S*!
    computer: "oh S*" command not found. Say "enter" to continue.
    captain: enter, my ass!
    computer: i'm not that kind of computer.

  • by IvyMike (178408) on Monday May 05, 2003 @10:36PM (#5887702)

    The CNN article [cnn.com] on the off-course landing was much cooler. Here's the excerpt I liked:

    Eleven years before that, two cosmonauts overshot their touchdown site by 2,000 miles and found themselves deep in a forest with hungry wolves. That's when Russian space officials decided to pack a sawed-off shotgun aboard every spacecraft.

    I always wondered why my guy in Doom had a shotgun in space. I guess now I know. :)

  • by Maimun (631984) on Monday May 05, 2003 @10:48PM (#5887784)
    Nothing is perfect, of course, but after the destruction of Columbia in Feb, many were pointing out how well does the simpler design of the Soyuz capsule work, as opposed to the too-complicated shuttle.

    Well, not always. In the 70's (or early 80's ... I think the 70's) all of the Eastern block countries sent their cosmonauts to the Salyut space station (that was before Mir). The Bulgarian cosmonaut Georgi Ivanov was very close to having a deadly accident because of the Soyuz. They could not dock for some reason, spent about 24h flying by the Salyut, and finally had to re-enter using auxiliary engines, and having precisely one try to fire them. They got lucky here, the engines worked and they entered the atmosphere in so called "ballistic trajectory" (how can it be non-ballistic?), with 9-10G overload.

    I forgot to mention, there were two of them, the Russian Nikolay Rukavishnikov was the commander of the mission, G. Ivanov was the second guy.

    This spring, several weeks after Columbia broke apart, there was an interview with G. Ivanov in a Bulgarian newspaper online, when he recalled how he himself was close to having a fatal accident back then. The reason was a malfunctioning fuel pump of their Soyuz.

  • Fail-safe design (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fname (199759) on Monday May 05, 2003 @10:59PM (#5887855) Journal
    It's actually a clever piece of work. Basically, software has to make calculations in order to provide a "soft" entry, 5 Gs approximately. If there is an error, the module goes into a ballistic entry mode, and it is more like 7-8 Gs, rougher but survivable.

    On (nearly) every manned spacecraft ever flown, every system has a hot-backup that kicks in if the first one fails. The exceptions are systems for which it is basically impractical to have a backup-- can't really have redundant heat shields, as the weight is too much. But for electronics and software, this is standard. This story would have gone practically unnoticed if Soyuz had notified Star City that they were doing a "ballistic" entry, in which case they would have been located much sooner.

    This landing showed that the Soyuz has a robust design; if Endeavour enters the atmosphere at the wrong angle, could it recover? What if the flight landing computer failed? NASA has a lot of these things covered; for many problems it is probably more robust than Soyuz, for others it is less robust. Soyuz has the advantage of much more flight experience; I doubt that it's a coincidence that this anomaly happened on a flight with a newly upgraded Soyuz.
  • SDI (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MickyJ (188652) on Monday May 05, 2003 @11:05PM (#5887891) Homepage Journal
    As everyone knows, SDI cannot stop terrorists from flying planes into buildings, using suitcase nuclear weapons, launching missiles from off-shore platforms, etc, etc.

    But, SDI is really another way to spend billions on research (just like the space race used to be the research money hole). There is no doubt good things will come from it, but at a very high cost.
    • Re:SDI (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sigwinch (115375)
      It's all about the threat model.

      As everyone knows, SDI cannot stop terrorists from flying planes into buildings, using suitcase nuclear weapons, launching missiles from off-shore platforms, etc, etc.

      But lots of nations don't destroy for the hell of it, they do things for a purpose. Consider a nation like the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. They don't want nukes so they can carry out an attack. Actually attacking would put them at the sharp end of a very pointy stick. Not even the Glorious Leade

  • by sstory (538486) on Monday May 05, 2003 @11:07PM (#5887898) Homepage
    I mean, I'd hate to be shot in the face by a space laser.
  • Not a bug (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 05, 2003 @11:26PM (#5888022)
    Actually, they don't know if it was a software bug. At this point that is pure (though somewhat educated) speculation.

    The only thing known for certain, is that the backup guidance system took over and landed the craft safely.

    It is possible that pilot error caused the switch to backup, or mechanical failure, or a software design error, or a software bug.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 05, 2003 @11:35PM (#5888080)
    Why is it all the news stories recently in the US press recently seem to have a dismissive, almost mocking, view of the Russian space programme? Words like primative, old technology, not as advanced as American keep coming up over and over again. The Russians have vastly more experience in manned space flight than the Americans and arguably a much better success ratio. It pisses me off the "American must be better" attitude you see in the western press these days. They should remember who it is keeping the whole ISS alive while the shuttle isn't around.
  • Glass Cockpit? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gojira Shipi-Taro (465802) on Monday May 05, 2003 @11:35PM (#5888081) Homepage
    I saw an interview over the weekend with the space Tourist guy where the fact that this particular capsule was one of the first Soyuz with a "glass cockpit", similar to what has recently been installed on the shuttle fleet.

    As a software QA guy, I know what kinds of havok a UI defect can cause in a software package. Is it possible that insufficient QA is going into the interface software for these "Glass Cockpits"? There's a time and place for everything, and at the moment, I'd feel a lot better with hardware switches for most spacecraft function (particularly with something as old as Soyuz) than with the kinds of UIs that I've seen in terrestrial software...
  • by sbwoodside (134679) <sbwoodside@yahoo.com> on Tuesday May 06, 2003 @02:45AM (#5888885) Homepage
    Here's a system that failed gracefully. Consider a simple taxonomy of software bugs:
    - you lose data
    - you corrupt data

    The second one is far, far worse because the failure makes changes to your data and you know longer know what is right and what is wrong. The same situation maps onto this failure. The automatic primary system failed, and lost data. But it did not /corrupt/ data. A kernel panic serves exactly the same purpose. The kernel detects that it can no longer rely on itself, instead of continuing to operate it shuts down. The potential consequences of continuing in any form, might results in writing random or bad data to the hard drive, or who knows what else. It's better to system panic and stop doing anything.

    Code that fails gracefully is good code.

    simon
  • technophobia (Score:3, Interesting)

    by stinky wizzleteats (552063) on Tuesday May 06, 2003 @09:38AM (#5890243) Homepage Journal

    Which is why I will never trust the Strategic Defence Initiative - the star wars project. It only takes one line of mistyped code in what will always be a beta release.

    You could use that argument against any weapons system that uses a computer. You could also further expand that statement to say that computers can never be used for important tasks. It is amazing how quickly politics can make luddites of us, isn't it?

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. -- John Muir

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