Orbiting Space Shuttle Computers Worry NASA --flight software may have been corrupted

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Sunday March 18 2:33 AM ET Orbiting Space Shuttle Computers Worry NASA

By Brad Liston

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - Astronauts aboard the shuttle Discovery were too quick to start a pair of onboard computers, NASA said Sunday, and that had ground controllers worried that flight software may have been corrupted.

But shuttle commander James Wetherbee and pilot James Kelly ran a lengthy diagnostic test on the shuttle's General Purpose Computers that reassured ground teams that the computers were operating normally.

The computers had been turned off while the shuttle was docked to the International Space Station. Discovery was delivering a new crew and some five tons of supplies and hardware to the station, and will undock Sunday evening.

``We have full confidence that things will work from now on,'' Mission Control assured the astronauts.

``Thank you very much for all the analysis and help,'' Wetherbee told ground controllers.

Had things not gone so well, the 13-day mission's end could have been delayed a day while astronauts reloaded all the software, something never done on the fly in 20 years of space-shuttle operations.

A Four-Second Problem

The two computers were turned on too quickly Saturday. Guidelines call for them to be activated 10 seconds apart, but the astronauts only gave 6 seconds, NASA said. Four computers in all might have been effected by corrupted software.

The problems began when NASA noted some icing along coolant lines that could have harmed the shuttle's electrical systems. Turning on heaters meant turning on the computers, and that led to the quick start and ``an intense day of investigation and analysis,'' said NASA spokesman Rob Navias.

The computer concerns caused the Discovery crew to fall about two hours behind schedule on dismounting the Italian-made Leonardo cargo module from the space station and returning it to the shuttle's payload bay for the return flight home.

When operations resume, astronaut Andrew Thomas will use the shuttle's 50-foot (15-meter) robot arm to pluck the $150 million cylinder, named for Leonardo Da Vinci and making its maiden flight, from its temporary berth on the space station and cradle it in the open shuttle bay.

The Discovery crew -- Wetherbee, Kelly, Thomas and Paul Richards -- will ferry home the first crew to live aboard the station, the Russian-American Expedition One team.

William Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalyov have lived on the station since Nov. 2.

The shuttle will leave behind the Expedition Two team of Yury Usachev, Susan Helms and James Voss. They rode up on the shuttle, which launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and is scheduled to land there Wednesday.

The space station, still under construction, is a joint project of space agencies in the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. NASA expects to spend $95 billion to build and then operate the facility for a decade or more. http://dailynews.yahoo.com/htx/nm/20010318/ts/space_shuttle_dc_35.html

-- Carl Jenkins (somewherepress@aol.com), March 18, 2001

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