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NASA regains space station contact after outage

4:14 PM, Feb 19, 2013   |    comments
International Space Station (AP file)
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - U.S. astronauts restored full communications and command capability aboard the International Space Station Tuesday after trouble encountered during a computer software upload prompted a loss of contact with Mission Control in Houston.

Station skipper Kevin Ford rebooted the outpost's U.S. computer system, clearing the problem after a three-hour loss of communications and command capability. Ford was able to report the problem to Mission Control in Houston during a pass over Russian ground stations.

"Just FYI, the station is still flying straight. Everybody is in good shape, of course, and nothing unexpected other than a lot of caution and warning tones," Ford said.

The problem did not endanger the six-man crew, said NASA spokesman Josh Byerly of the Johnson Space Center.

"They went through a procedure that basically amounted to rebooting a computer and getting it back up and running," he said. "We've got our command and control back."

Normally, NASA communicates with and sends commands to the station from Houston, via three communications satellites that transmit voice, video and data. Such interruptions have happened a few times in the past, the space agency said.

The trouble cropped up when Mission Control was switching to a backup U.S. computer so new software could be loaded into the prime U.S. computer. NASA officials said a ground system was not configured properly for the switch.

Consequently, the station's antenna could not be pointed properly at a NASA tracking and data relay satellite that enables crews to stay in near constant contact with Mission Control.

The glitch occurred about 9:45 a.m. EST and communications and command control capability were restored at 12:34 p.m. EST.

If no crisis is going on, losing communication with the ground "is not a terrible thing," said former astronaut Jerry Linenger, who was on the Russian space station Mir during a dangerous fire in 1997. "You feel pretty confident up there that you can handle it. You're flying the spacecraft."

Not only should this boost the confidence of the station crew, it's good training for any eventual mission to Mars because there will be times when communications is down or difficult during the much farther voyage, Linenger said.

The crew also includes U.S. astronaut Thomas Marshburn, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and three Russian cosmonauts: Oleg Novitskiy, Evgeny Tarelkin and Roman Romanenko.

In the past few weeks the space station had been purposely simulating communications delays and downtimes to see how activity could work for a future Mars mission, Byerly said.

This was not part of those tests, but may prove useful, he said.

(Florida Today/USA Today)

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