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Thu, Jun 14, 2007

Computer Failures Continue To Plague Station, Shuttle Crews

Is The ISS In Trouble? Short Answer: Not Yet

What started as a troublesome glitch in stabilization systems onboard the International Space Station has grown into a more worrisome -- though not yet critical -- situation. On Thursday, Russian-made computers that control the station's orientation in orbit failed yet again, as did systems regulating the station's oxygen and water supply.

Russian controllers were able to partially restore those computers hours later, but not before the three-person Expedition 15 crew and seven members of visiting STS-117 were told to cut power to non-critical equipment... including lighting systems, according to Reuters.

NASA also decided to keep Atlantis docked to the station for one more day, so the shuttle's thrusters could continue to assist in orienting the station in the proper alignment with the sun. The shuttle has intermittently assisted in that operation since arriving at the orbital outpost Sunday.

"We're just trying to buy some margin for an extra docked day," astronaut Shane Kimbrough from Mission Control in Houston radioed to the crew.

Engineers aren't sure what caused the computers to fail, although the trouble began shortly after a newly-installed solar panel began sending power to the station.

Even if those systems were to fail completely -- and crews were unable to restore them -- the crew onboard the ISS would not be in immediate danger. There is enough air onboard the ISS to sustain the crew for over six weeks; while water supplies aren't quite that ample, NASA says there is plenty to keep the crew safe while determining a plan to either repair or abandon the ISS.

Should the latter prove to be the preferred option, the station's three-person crew would use the station's docked Soyuz capsule as a "lifeboat" to return to Earth after Atlantis undocks from the station.

For the moment, however, abandoning the station remains a highly remote possibility. For the remainder of Thursday, NASA says the STS-117 and Expedition 15 crews will continue retracting solar arrays and preparing for repair work during Friday's spacewalk, scheduled to begin at 1318 EDT. The first task for STS-117 Mission Specialists Jim Reilly and Danny Olivas will be to repair a thermal blanket that pulled away from the orbital maneuvering system pod on the rear of the shuttle during last Friday's launch.

In what may be the first-ever example of orbital needlecraft, the astronauts will use a kit intended to repair torn spacesuits to sew the thermal blanket back together.



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