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Space Station Computers Partially Restored 158

Posted by Zonk
from the i'd-like-to-see-geek-squad-get-up-there dept.
Raver32 writes with the news that a partial restoration of computer control was established on the International Space Station (ISS) Thursday. Systems controlling critical elements like navigation and life-support failed on Wednesday. "Flight controllers were able to re-establish some communication with the computers overnight, with Russian engineers working Thursday to restore the rest of the system, NASA space station flight director Holly Ridings said. The U.S. space agency and Russian officials are still trying to determine the cause of a failure affecting multiple computers in the Russian network ... Since an earlier failure on Monday, thrusters on the space shuttle Atlantis have been fired periodically to help maintain the station's position. The Russian and U.S. space agencies said they could extend Atlantis's mission by one or two days to fix the problem. In the worst-case scenario, NASA said the ISS crew members -- two Russians and an American -- may be evacuated from the station."
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Space Station Computers Partially Restored

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  • OLD OLD news (Score:5, Informative)

    by Profane MuthaFucka (574406) * <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Friday June 15, 2007 @04:18PM (#19524031) Homepage Journal
    The computers are dead, not half alive as previously reported.

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/space/2007-06 -15-spacewalk-three_N.htm [usatoday.com]
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Fx.Dr (915071)
      "But Michael Suffredini, space-station program manager, said Friday he did not expect the crew to have to abandon the station. He said the computer failure did not threaten the crew's safety"

      Hilarious. I'd say the fact that the shuttle Atlantis' boosters are the only thing keeping the ISS from going ass-over-teakettle is one helluva threat.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jugalator (259273)
      Ouch... Even if I realize the ISS project itself has become a bit controversial with the funding and its goals (although its funding is nothing in comparison to so many other int'l projects I think the world could be without), this is sending some chills to me, if not only because of the economical catastrophy it would be for NASA, Russia, and the international space community with all that money down the drain if we would experience a worst case scenario here. Jeez, it's 2007 and the STS and ISS projects W
    • The Atlantis crew better watch out for runaway equipment while they are replacing the AE-35 unit.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 15, 2007 @04:21PM (#19524069)
    They forgot to register their Vista ISS edition copy of Windows and their 30 day trial is over.
  • There are times... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@@@gmail...com> on Friday June 15, 2007 @04:21PM (#19524073) Homepage Journal

    In the worst-case scenario, NASA said the ISS crew members -- two Russians and an American -- may be evacuated from the station.
    ...when having an overly spacious craft can come in handy. Should an evacuation be necessary, at least we know the Shuttle can carry them all.

    Of course, if we launched enough smaller ships to where we had multiple birds in the air at any given time, space for evacuation wouldn't be a problem. Just catch the next transport.

    Which reminds me, did NASA ever get around to installing the emergency escape craft? I know it was supposed to be a stripped-down capsule, but I don't remember if they just decided to keep something docked at all times instead.
    • They finished about 90% of the development work, and then canceled it.
    • by cmowire (254489) on Friday June 15, 2007 @04:44PM (#19524423) Homepage
      In the early days (Space Station Freedom) they figured that if anything bad happened, they'd just send up another shuttle to rescue them, so the nodes were designed as secure refuges for the several-day wait for the next shuttle to show up.

      Eventually NASA realized that wouldn't work, so they went through a series of different designs. Initially, they were going to dust-off the Apollo Capsule design and use that. Then they got creative.

      The design, as specced when they started launching, was to put a lifting body capsule specifically designed for the purpose. Until it was ready, they'd just use Soyuz capsules.

      Then the special purpose vehicle became a general purpose vehicle, so that they didn't have to worry about the shuttle nearly as much.

      Then the Columbia blew up and the general purpose vehicle became our last best hope for a space program, but as a dusted-off Apollo Capsule instead of a fancy lifting body.

      Now, they just dock a single Soyuz capsule. Eventually they will have a pair of Soyuz capsules docked. Which is fine, it's just that the Russians have a habit of abusing their position whenever they are the only way up and down from the ISS.

      Also, note that if the goal is to get somebody *down* from orbit, it isn't too hard. A heat-shield, a space-suit, a nitrogen-gas thruster, and a parachute. Maybe a cheezy visual alignment aid to get the thruster in the right point and a map to make sure you land on land. A few hundered pounds of hardware, per person. The problem has always been feature-creep more than anything else.
      • by compro01 (777531) on Friday June 15, 2007 @04:56PM (#19524609)
        Also, note that if the goal is to get somebody *down* from orbit, it isn't too hard. A heat-shield, a space-suit, a nitrogen-gas thruster, and a parachute. Maybe a cheezy visual alignment aid to get the thruster in the right point and a map to make sure you land on land. A few hundered pounds of hardware, per person. The problem has always been feature-creep more than anything else.

        they're actually working on that. there was an interesting article in popsci in the latest issue. they're planning to have the first actual jump-from-orbit test by 2009.
        • they're planning to have the first actual jump-from-orbit test by 2009.

          Do you seriously believe that a human being is going to aerobrake from orbit to landing with just a pressure suit in two years time? Doesn't sound likely to me.

          If such a system was available nobody would choose to use Soyuz.

          • What do you think sounds so hard about it? The current record skydive is 20 miles, and the PopSci article is about plans for a 60 mile dive. They say the dive would take 10 minutes, with a maximum external temp of 465 F and a maximum acceleration of 4.4Gs. They only plan to do a 120,000 foot jump in 2009, with the 60 mile jump two years later. They don't have a set timetable for true de-orbit jumps.

            To me, the least realistic bit is that they plan to use Carmack's rocket to get up.
            • They don't have a set timetable for true de-orbit jumps

              Thats what I thought the post was about. The de-orbit jump really is hard, mainly because of the low density of the pressure suit and occupant. You would have to carry ballast to keep the deceleration survivable.

            • ORBIT IS NOT JUST ABOUT HEIGHT!

              The thing with orbit is you aren't just high up out of the atnosphere you also have considerable lateral velocity to get rid of. The normal way to do that is to use thrust to make an orbital adjustment that brings the veseels into the atnosphere and then dump the velocity by friction.

              This works but requires a HUGE ammount of heat shieling. Far more than a simple suit could provide.
      • but as a dusted-off Apollo Capsule instead of a fancy lifting body.

        Actually, the Apollo Capsule is a lifting body. It was designed that way intentionally, and its properties as a lifting body were exploited as part of a normal Apollo mission profile. Fancy lifting body indeed!
        • Actually, the Apollo Capsule is a lifting body

          So is every golf ball. A lifting body capable of subsonic flight is a different matter.

          • So is every golf ball. A lifting body capable of subsonic flight is a different matter.

            I think you misunderstand the nature of the Apollo mission profile. The Apollo capsule's lifting body properties were exploited to maneuver it during reentry, giving it a much longer landing zone and the ability to avoid unfavorable weather conditions. It was much more sophisticated than a dimpled golf ball, and I'm not sure why you think that a lifting body capable of controlled supersonic flight is not as "fancy" as a

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by MichaelSmith (789609)

              I'm not sure why you think that a lifting body capable of controlled supersonic flight is not as "fancy" as a lifting body capable of controlled subsonic flight.

              The latter can soft land with wheels or skids. The former relies on parachutes.

              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by susano_otter (123650)
                I think I understand, now. This is some sort of pissing contest where your lifting body is supposed to be much cooler than my lifting body. In fact I think that all lifting bodies are pretty cool. I think single-stage, self-propelled, "airplane"-style lifting bodies are pretty cool. The Apollo capsule always struck my fancy because it was a lifting body where I didn't expect one. I think it's unfair to dismiss it as not being a "fancy" lifting body. But as they say, "you can't argue with taste". You ob
            • by GooberToo (74388)
              The Apollo capsule's lifting body properties were exploited to maneuver it during reentry, giving it a much longer landing zone and the ability to avoid unfavorable weather conditions.

              A lifting body design need not be required to obtain the results you cite. One need only modify the shape, or change its AOA slightly while in flight to achieve the same result. Drag and basic vector changes do wonderful things. Heck, even airplanes have to be "in trim" else the imposed asymmetrical drag, causes the plane t
        • by GooberToo (74388)
          Actually, the Apollo Capsule is a lifting body.

          Where did you hear that? According to a documentary I saw where they interviewed the engineer the came up with the concept, both the concept and phrase "lifting body" did not exist at the time.

          If by "lifting body" you really mean high drag design I'll agree. It is certainly not obvious the Apollo capsule generates any form of lift during reentry until its parachutes pop out. If you insist it is a lifting body design, how does it generate lift (please note, d
      • A heat-shield, a space-suit, a nitrogen-gas thruster, and a parachute.

        To get an accurate landing point my impression is that you need more than 100 m/s of delta V to start re-entry. I can't see a cold gas thruster doing the job. If you want something lightweight, through, how about a parachute? I am thinking of a huge lightweight sheet of Mylar or a similar material, similar to a solar sail. Atmospheric drag at ISS altitude is significant and might be enough to keep the parachute inflated.

      • by Rakishi (759894)

        Also, note that if the goal is to get somebody *down* from orbit, it isn't too hard. A heat-shield, a space-suit, a nitrogen-gas thruster, and a parachute. Maybe a cheezy visual alignment aid to get the thruster in the right point and a map to make sure you land on land. A few hundered pounds of hardware, per person. The problem has always been feature-creep more than anything else.

        http://www.space.com/news/spacehistory/moose_00092 3.html [space.com]

    • by fm6 (162816)

      Should an evacuation be necessary, at least we know the Shuttle can carry them all.

      The ISS crew would be very nervous if they had to rely on the shuttle for emergency evacuation. Even when it's not grounded (and not killing its crew), the shuttle fleet doesn't visit the station that often. Good thing somebody thought to supply the ISS with a stash of Soyuz capsules [wikipedia.org] for emergencies.

    • by FleaPlus (6935)
      Which reminds me, did NASA ever get around to installing the emergency escape craft? I know it was supposed to be a stripped-down capsule, but I don't remember if they just decided to keep something docked at all times instead.

      The X-38 [wikipedia.org] (coincidentally, manufactured by Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites) was supposed to be the prototype for this. After a number of successful drop tests, the program was canceled in 2002.
  • I simply replace one part at a time (hardware), or segment off functions (software), and then try again. If it works then I've narrowed the hunt down.

    Of course, if one isn't permited to replace parts, alter functions, or even examine it unless you are Moscow ground control, then "Houston, we have a problem".
    • by eln (21727)
      Sure, but it's a little more effort to go down to the local Fry's for a new memory stick when you're orbiting 200 miles above the Earth.
      • Sure, but it's a little more effort to go down to the local Fry's for a new memory stick when you're orbiting 200 miles above the Earth.

        Every system I've worked on required redundancy for precisely that reason. And that's the real lesson to be learned from this incident. It's not about computers, or software, or even solar panels, it is about compromising the neccessary quality & efficiency, for outdated political & proprietary reasons.
    • by dr_dank (472072)
      unless you are Moscow ground control, then "Houston, we have a problem".

      Shouldn't that be "Moscow, we have a problemski."?
    • You do realize, do you not, that his is not some PC, but a dedicated processor, conformally-coated, probably in a hermtically-sealed enclosure with inert gasses, right? It's not like swapping out parts on your Dell.

              Brett
      • You do realize, do you not, that his is not some PC, but a dedicated processor, conformally-coated, probably in a hermtically-sealed enclosure with inert gasses, right? It's not like swapping out parts on your Dell.

        Does that mean they can't disconnect the new solar array? - Because they did
        Does that mean they can't try a separate power supply? - Because they did
        Does that mean they can't transfer functions to an alterante system? - Because they did

        I am talking about artificial impediments to logic

  • Looking at the website it looks like the ISS is 8.5 years old. While may not seem that long ago, to put it into perspective, 400mhz CPU where the thing back then. Look at how much has changed in that time period. Perhaps it's time for a system update. (not trolling being serious)

    Think of it this way, if you where in the hospital on life support would you want the latest tech or something that powers a cell phone now adays?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The cell phone CPU please.

      Processor speed is irrelevant to whether or not a device is reliable, but having an older device suggests that the bugs
      are more likely to be fixed or at least known by the staff. CPUs don't really wear out anyway.
    • No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@@@yahoo...com> on Friday June 15, 2007 @04:38PM (#19524331) Homepage Journal
      If you have a critical system that does everything you need and runs fine, never update it.

      • But it "didnt run fine" so now would be a good time to update :) Agree had nothing gone wrong it's best to leave working alone.
        • by Jugalator (259273)
          When is "now" then? They first need to send up the hardware upgrades. If these computers would stay failed, they won't have time to even schedule, prepare, and send a shuttle up for it, much less install the stuff. The Shuttle need to leave in a few days due to fuel constraints, regardless of their status up there. This is absolutely not a situation where NASA and Russia have free hands to do such far encompassing goals in case the current hardware would remain busted. *Maybe* if they would get this sorted
    • Think of it this way, if you where in the hospital on life support would you want the latest tech or something that powers a cell phone now adays?

      ???

      I'd take something that powers a cellphone myself. As would many doctors and technicians. Sometimes thorough testing and reliability are more important than cutting edge features and performance.

      IBM AP-101 [nasa.gov] for the win!

    • by compro01 (777531)
      Think of it this way, if you where in the hospital on life support would you want the latest tech or something that powers a cell phone now adays?

      the cell phone thanks. new things always have bugs.

      also, for in-space use, they need to modify the chip to be radiation hardened, which takes awhile, along with further testing, etc. etc.

  • This is what happens when these ungodly Hollywood types with hyperactive imagination give ideas to our enemies. Why did they show that one way you could sabotage the spacecraft of an alien race would be by uploading a virus and crippling the computer systems? Now see what happened once the Klingons got the picture, so to speak. They are using the techniques developed by us against us.
  • by simos (84652) on Friday June 15, 2007 @04:38PM (#19524325) Homepage
    MOSCOW, June 15 (Itar-Tass) -- A fivefold over-voltage resultant from the unfolding of extra U.S. solar batteries caused a computer failure at the Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS), a source at the Energia Aerospace Corporation told Itar-Tass on Friday.

    "The power units of six computers of the Russian segment had a breakdown because of the over-voltage. The American partners unfolded new solar batteries on June 11," the source said.

    The German-made computers withstood the 2.5-time over-voltage last September, when the first segments of solar batteries were unfolded. The June 11 over-voltage hit the computers hard, he said.

    While experts are trying to reanimate the computers, new power units will be delivered to the ISS onboard a Progress freighter, Energia General Director Nikolai Sevastyanov told a Friday press conference. He said the new power units would be better protected.

    The Progress will be launched two weeks earlier than planned because of the ISS situation. Initially, the launch was scheduled for August 6. The U.S. segment of the ISS will provide for the station's orientation in the meantime, and engines of the docked Progress will be used if necessary.

    The ISS crew evacuation is not on the agenda, although a relevant plan has been drafted. Some of the computers of the Russian segment are still operational.

    Source: http://www.itar-tass.com/eng/level2.html?NewsID=11 633186&PageNum=0 [itar-tass.com]
    • by Timesprout (579035) on Friday June 15, 2007 @04:58PM (#19524637)
      Nice attemp at a cover up. We all know the computers were really confiscated by the RIAA for filesharing.
    • So basically they fried the power supplies on a bunch of computers. Doesn't matter how 'clean' the voltage is, if there's simply more than the power supplies can take. Sounds like they're hosed unless they can install the software on other hardware and get it working.

      Don't these folks have UPS or surge protectors? :-)
      • by jafac (1449)
        Wow.

        Single-point-of-failure, anyone?

        I wonder why they didn't all die, though.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by EvilMagnus (32878)
          I suspect they had six machines on the same circuit (probably all in one of the Russian modules). One or more of those machines controlled the thrusters. They all got fried. The Russian control software probably works fine on any one of those six Russian computers ... all of which got fried. ;-)

          They didn't all die because there's very few disasters on the ISS that would produce near-instantaneous calamity. This particular one means no thrusters, which isn't usually a problem ( gyros work for minor correctio
    • Troubleshooting can be pretty difficult to do, and problems can be expected to occur on every system, but what's important is that you are permitted to fix the problem.

      Car analogy. What if one day you got a flat, but the manufacturer had placed DRM locknuts in order to keep the tire on, which essentialy prevented you from fixing the tire yourself, without taking it back to the original dealer.

      In that case, would you be content to listen to him blame how poor the roads are, or would you make sure the n
    • Even *I* have a surge-suppressor on my expensive electronics at home...

      This is a massive oversight. First, (I suppose) the Russians didn't have any sort of surge protection on their critical systems. Second, the NASA engineers didn't do their research and understand what effect plugging more power into the station would have. (It's Tool Time with Tim Allen...)

      This seems like a really amateur mistake.
      • by ajlitt (19055)
        "Surge suppressors" as found on your PC are not designed to protect against steady-state overvoltage. In fact, most don't kick in until three to five times line voltage. Even then, they only act to shunt surges across the line. With a constant overvoltage in their operating range, they will cook themselves and fail quickly.

        What they could (and may) have done is have a crowbar circuit that would draw extra current when run above a preset voltage to cause any fuses upstream to trip.
        • by Agripa (139780)
          I remember doing a chassis assembly that included a MOV for surge suppression and questioning the design engineer about the part number since it looked to me like a 32 volt MOV in a 120 volt AC application. The reassurance that the part was correct plus the spectacular failure during the first power on test made for great conversation.

          I have not seen crowbar protection used on the input side of a power supply but I have designed in cascode disconnects before. The power supply was rated for 48 volt operati
          • by ajlitt (19055)
            Crowbars on power supply inputs are common in automotive applications since 24V busses and positive-chassis vehicles are out there.
            • by Agripa (139780)
              Alternators are something of a special case since their output characteristics and high leakage inductance make it safer to short out the input side of the power supply then disconnecting it in the event that the battery goes open circuit. Automotive systems tend to be designed incredibly cheaply.
    • from another link from the comments http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/space/2007-0 6 -15-spacewalk-three_N.htm [usatoday.com]

      The German-made computers are highly sensitive to slight fluctuations in the voltage of their power supply, and engineers thought the power from the new solar panels might be delivering "noisy" electricity that would trigger a shutdown. But tests done late Thursday and early Friday showed the power from the solar panels is high-quality, Suffredini said. He said even when the computers were di

    • Good post!

      An earlier post asked us to make a choice between new tech and cell phone tech....how about neither!

      I read somewhere (Popular Mechanics I think) that a 1999 Chevy Impala had more computing power than the complete Apollo 9 spacecraft and launch vehicle.

      Yes, they could have increased Apollo's computing power at the time,(and after missions) but they chose the most reliable/easier to hack by the astronauts (via ground control) systems that were available...not the most cutting edge by a long shot.

      Ano
      • by Rich0 (548339)
        The best is when IT security meets moderately-high-end science. I've heard of cases where operating systems have be desupported (think NT), and the knee-jerk reaction of IT security is to ban the use of the OS. The problem is that many equipment vendors didn't have software that ran on newer OSes. The knee-jerk response? "Well, just buy new equipment!" The only problem is that we are in some cases talking about $500k+ scientific instruments, whose purchase was based on an operational lifetime of a deca
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 15, 2007 @04:43PM (#19524419)
    This is still a dynamic situation. Moscow only has line-of-sight communications with the ISS, so their interaction with the on-board computer system is limited to certain time windows. Over the last few days, the ISS computers have been going flaky, on and off. Since this article was written, they've completely died. However, as of a few minutes ago, they have successfully booted 2 out of 3 lanes in the terminal system, which is way more progress than they've been making previously. Just prior, they disconnected a power cable which extends to where the next solar panel array will be installed. This may have been the source of the problem, as the computers started acting up right around the time the cable was initially connected. If you're more interested in up-to-date information regarding the situation, don't turn to CBS. Try www.spaceflightnow.com (realtime updates).
  • Did it have anything to do with this woman hacking them with a baby monitor ;)

    http://digg.com/offbeat_news/Baby_Monitor_Monitors _International_Space_Station_Rather_Than_Baby [digg.com]
  • Crash and Burn (Score:2, Informative)

    by Howitzer86 (964585)
    Watch, as all your tax dollars go down the drain.

    Assuming the computers cannot be restarted in a day or two, the shuttle and station crew will have to depart. Without those computers, the station will be put in an ever increasing spin due to tidal forces. Once the shuttle leaves, it will never be able to dock with the station again.

    Eventually, the orbit will decay and cause the station to enter an uncontrolled reentry. By uncontrolled I mean hundreds of tons of flaming white hot metal could end up
    • by Kythe (4779)
      And that's the optimistic scenario.
    • by phayes (202222)
      Nice try chicken little, but tidal forces would tend to align ISS' axis of widest weight distribution with the center of the earth & not make it spin. Pull the other one...
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Friday June 15, 2007 @04:55PM (#19524601) Homepage Journal
    don't Russian computers run on metric electricity?
  • by the_rajah (749499) on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:16PM (#19524865) Homepage
    This was the question that was asked on a locally hosted talk radio show yesterday. I called in and explained that if it was an American computer, it would probably be running Windows. I asked if they had heard of the "Blue Screen of Death", which they had. I explained that deploying Windows in a life-support function would give new meaning to the term. Then the host, intelligent guy that he is, said, "But they could use a Mac". I said, "Or, better yet Linux".
    • Are you suggesting that NASA has approved the use of Windows on mission critical systems?
    • by GreggBz (777373)
      First, this has to do with the engineering and testing of the power systems, not with software or the "hardware" as you seem to think. Second, American computers run VxWorks in space. In a sense, these computers are largely American and do indeed run VxWorks. [msn.com] (I don't know who built the power supplies, and NASA and Russia or whatever should have tested things better, but space is hard and that's beside the point.)

      The point is, any OS you mention with the possible exception of a very trim embedded Linux syst
  • ...the last of the hopi indian prophecies will have come to pass...

                "And this is the Ninth and Last Sign: You will hear of a dwelling-place in the heavens, above the earth, that shall fall with a great crash. It will appear as a blue star. Very soon after this, the ceremonies of my people will cease.
  • Closer to solved? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Boilermaker84 (896573) on Friday June 15, 2007 @06:10PM (#19525633)
    Spaceflightnow.com (http://www.spaceflightnow.com/shuttle/sts117/0706 14computers/index7.html [spaceflightnow.com]) is reporting that bypassing a suspect power supply (does not indicate what the power supply is/if it's related to the new panels or not) resulted in 4 of the 6 computers coming back up and restoration of 2 of the 3 guidance lanes.
  • The U.S. space agency and Russian officials are still trying to determine the cause of a failure affecting multiple computers in the Russian network

    I seem to recall that the Russians had a penchant, dating from the early days of their space program, to design, build, and use analog computers [wikipedia.org] as either backups to main digital computers OR in embedded subsystems such as attitude control, oxygen generation, and the like. It is interesting to note that the failure occurred soon after a new solar panel insta
    • The computers in question are definitely NOT analog, and analog computers are definitely NOT particularly prone to the kinds of problems they are currently experiencing.

      The current issue may or may not be related to the new solar array, although it was an interesting coincidence if it wasn't. The computers involved are apparently known to be prone to problems with EMI and that seems to be a leading candidate right now.

      Analog computers (depending on definition) are present in es
  • Haven't they heard of an power conditioner or UPS?

    Seriously, I'll offer to buy them a Furman Strip [furmansound.com] out of my own pocket. Hell, I'll buy them two.
  • Whatever happened to manual controls?

  • "partially restored" means "they don't work" amirite?

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