Computer Glitch Delays Space Station Robot Test : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Wednesday April 25 8:57 AM ET Computer Glitch Delays Space Station Robot Test

By Broward Liston

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - A command computer aboard the International Space Station malfunctioned on Wednesday, and NASA said the problem could halt the first major test of a new robotics system.

Overnight, the space station's primary command and control computer, one of three identical computers on board, malfunctioned and automatically switched its functions to the no. 2 computer.

That computer then failed to communicate with the station's database. A reset performed by ground controllers seemed to work, but the system broke down again after several minutes. NASA may opt to switch to the no. 3 computer, but that could involve a delay of several hours.

``This basically puts the robotics activities on hold,'' said NASA spokesman James Hartsfield.

The computer is needed for Canada's Big Arm, a mammoth construction robot and the newest addition to the International Space Station, to finish its first real job -- handing the 1.5-ton platform it arrived on back to space shuttle Endeavour's robotic arm, an older, less versatile version of itself.

NASA said the exchange, a kind of handshake in space between the robotic elite of two generations, would be the most intricate and complex robotics operation ever attempted in orbit.

American astronaut Susan Helms is to operate the Big Arm from the space station, and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield will work the Little Arm, as its come to be known, from Endeavour.

The station arm was installed by spacewalkers Hadfield and Scott Parazynski on Sunday, still bolted to the pallet used to secure it during Endeavour's launch. The robot attached one end of itself to a power and data port on the station's wall on Monday, and on Tuesday it released its grip on the pallet.

Although it took two days for the robotic arm to take its first step, it will soon be able to walk or cartwheel like an inchworm all over the station. Each step will still take at least 15 minutes, according to its designers.

Bigger Job For Big Arm In June

The Big Arm faces a much bigger job in June, when the station airlock is due to arrive on a shuttle. Since the airlock's berth will be beyond the reach of the shuttle's arm, Wednesday's operation will be repeated in reverse, with the shuttle arm handing off to the station arm.

The Big Arm, or Canadarm2 as it is officially known, is part of a $900 million robotics package that will arrive at the station over several years.

A robotic hand, capable of finely detailed work on fiber optic cables, and a sled that can move the whole assembly from one end of the station to another, are still to come.

The Big Arm by itself represents a significant development in space robotics, according to experts. With the proper software and sensors, it could even do without a human operator, roaming the station on its own, performing repair work as needed.

The joint crews, 10 astronauts in all, continued to unload the tons of equipment and supplies inside a cargo module temporarily docked to the station.

Nine science experiments also arrived in the shuttle's crew cabin, the most experiments ever delivered to the station. Included was a commercial study of how antibiotics grow in space.

Bristol-Myers Squibb hopes that whatever the company can learn about the effect of gravity on antibiotic generation in weightlessness can be used to increase production back on Earth, said a company spokesman.

-- Carl Jenkins (, April 25, 2001



Computer problems delay space mission WebPosted Wed Apr 25 16:03:28 2001

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA - A computer malfunction has caused a delay in the "handshake in space." The plan was for the Canadarm to hand over a platform weighing 1.5 tonnes to the Canadarm2.

It was set for 8:45 ET on Wednesday but that's been put off for until Thursday.

INDEPTH: Handshake in Space: Canadarm2

The problems started when a command computer stopped working the way it was supposed to. It automatically handed over to an identical computer on the space station.

But that system, too, had problems as did a third backup computer system on board.

"This basically puts the robotics activities on hold," said NASA spokesperson James Hartsfield.

It also led to a series of other glitches. Communication between the International Space Station and Mission Control were disrupted, forcing officials to relay messages through the space shuttle Endeavour.

But because Mission Control couldn't command the space station to shut off its steering systems, the astronauts were forced to delay an orbit-raising manoeuvre using the Endeavour.

In an unrelated problem, the station's Russian air purification system briefly shut down, forcing the Endeavour to clean the air for both vehicles.

When the handshake does take place, NASA says it will be the most complex and intricate robotics operation ever undertaken in space.

-- Rachel Gibson (, April 25, 2001.

WIRE: 04/26/2001 6:48 am ET

NASA Regains Some Control of Space Station

By Broward Liston CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - NASA regained some control over the International Space Station on Thursday, more than a day after all three command computers aboard the orbiting outpost mysteriously went off line.

Mission managers had worked through a long and largely fruitless night trying to command a single light fixture in the Destiny laboratory module to turn on and off.

But astronaut Susan Helms, shortly after waking up, was able to use a laptop computer to establish a link with one of the command computers.

"Bob, we are connected," Helms told space station flight director Bob Castle, "and it looks like our data is good."

Castle called that "extraordinarily good news."

No one understood why that worked, but Mission Control had Helms quickly enter a series of commands that restored the data stream, known as telemetry, that allows ground controllers to monitor the station.

Mission Control established tenuous control over just one computer and hoped that would be enough to diagnose the problem and have all three computers working by afternoon.

The computer failures not only left both ground controllers and astronauts unable to command the station, it broke direct communications between the station and Mission Control.

Since the space shuttle Endeavour was docked to the station, the astronauts where able to use its systems for communications.

Although there was no danger to the 10 astronauts aboard the station - - seven from Endeavour and the station's long duration crew of three - - it was the most serious problem to hit the station since crews began living there last year, NASA said.

The station was designed to work with just one command computer active and the other two on standby. That kind of double redundancy is built into the system to guarantee that failures like this one do not happen.

"The situation is strange to us at this point, and we're trying to sort that out; yet, it doesn't appear to be causing any huge problems on board the station," said Milt Heflin, a NASA operations manager.

Automatic functions such as life support and pointing the station's solar-energy arrays at the sun continued to work because they do not require commands from the ground or the crew.

The computers began to fail in a bewildering sequence about 40 minutes after the astronauts began their sleep period on Tuesday.

It caused the station and shuttle crews to cancel a test of the new Canadian construction robot, Canadarm2, also known as the Big Arm. If the computer problems are fixed, that test can proceed Thursday afternoon.

The $95 billion station is a joint project of the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe.

-- Doris (, April 26, 2001.

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