Space Station Computers Have Partial Power

Russians to spend next few days monitoring the situation.

February 10, 2009, 5:40 PM

June 16, 2007 — -- After days of computer malfunctions, the crew inside the International Space Station has gotten partial power to four of six computers by bypassing faulty power switches.

The Russians are overjoyed about the computer fix, but will spend the next few days monitoring the situation. Specifically, they are interested in checking if the computer can handle the orientation of the space station.

Initally, they thought they would have to send up an entirely new computer system.

The crew bypassed a faulty power switches for the four computers, and when the Russians commanded the computers to start, they came on.

On Friday, while NASA said it was working to repair the computers, Russian sources told ABC News that they believe the entire computer system will need to be replaced.

Russians have moved up the launch of a Progress cargo ship, scheduled for Aug. 8. The plan now is to launch it on July 23, carrying the new units.

The computers are used principally to control thrusters in the Space Station's Russian-made Service Module, which are used to keep the station properly oriented in orbit.

Large gyroscopes in American segments of the station do most of the job of keeping the station stable, but at times they need help from the Russian thrusters. The thrusters are used, for instance, to keep the station from tumbling after a Space Shuttle undocks from it.

Russian engineers suggested earlier in the week that the computer problem began shortly after the station began receiving power from new solar panels installed by the visiting shuttle Atlantis.

NASA engineers say they looked into that, and came up dry.

They measured the power coming from the new solar panels; it appeared normal.

They shut that power down. It did not help the Russian computers.

"It appears that at least the power source is not the cause of the anomaly," said Mike Suffredini, NASA's space station manager, at a press conference in Houston. "We'll continue to look."

"There is nobody in this agency or in the Russian agency that thinks this vehicle is at risk of being lost -- not remotely," Suffredini told reporters.

"We work problems like this all the time," Suffredini said. "When you have two countries with a lot of experience working together, it's amazing what you can do."

The Russian source told ABC News that the Americans and Russians are working "very well" together.

"The Americans are really helping. Whenever a problem arises, the Americans give them answers," he said.

After the initial computer failure, according to the Russian source, the American gyroscopes saved the station from worse trouble. Without thrusters or gyroscopes to stabilize it, the station could begin slowly to tumble.

Suffredini repeated NASA's message that the crew is not in any danger.

"Space flight is a challenging business. We can go home, and do nothing, or we can choose to explore," he said. "We choose to explore, and these are the things that you occasionally deal with in this business."

Russian space agency officials had told ABC News early Friday that the damaged computers aboard the International Space Station could have a "fatal flaw."

The officials said they would have the Station's crew -- two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut -- stay onboard in the meantime to keep things running.

Meanwihile, Shuttle astronauts James Reilly and Danny Olivas made a spacewalk on Friday afternoon to repair a small tear in the shuttle's thermal insulation using a surgical staple gun. Part of the blanket peeled back during the launch.

During the computer outage, Atlantis' thrusters have been used to help with the station's attitude control. And the shuttle crew has been conserving electricity and fuel in case they needed to extend their stay to help the three station crew members. Atlantis only has enough fuel to remain docked to the space station until Wednesday.

"Things are not always going to go well. Fortunately, we have a great operations team down in Mission Control and at the Johnson Space Center and over in Moscow … that are working together to decide what the best course of action is," said Atlantis Cmdr. Frederick Sturckow.

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