Russian crew uses workaround to fix space station computers

All systems appear to be back to normal, as testing continues

The two balky Russian computers on the orbiting International Space Station have apparently been fixed by two Russian cosmonauts using a pair of old-fashioned "jumper cables" to bypass a malfunctioning switch.

In a news conference late Friday, Michael Suffredini, NASA's space station program manager, said that Russian Space Agency technicians came up with a repair procedure earlier Friday in their labs on Earth and sent details to the two cosmonauts.

"They implemented a simple shunt" by removing electrical connections to the computers and bypassing existing circuitry, Suffredini said. After powering up the two computers, which control water, oxygen and the orbital position of the space station, four of the six data channels or "lanes" again came online and began operating as designed, he said. The computers should work fine with four lanes in operation, NASA said.

"It did exactly what they expected," Suffredini said. Once the computer were confirmed to be back online, the Russian crew taped the shunt into place and reattached protective access panels. The four lanes on the two computers have been back in service since about 3:30 p.m. EDT.

The problem was apparently a low-voltage circuit similar to something seen in an overvoltage protection circuit, he said. Such a circuit can be affected by electromagnetic interference or "noise," which apparently caused it to turn the power off to the two Russian computers.

Bypassing the faulty mechanism restored the flow of electricity. "They basically caused the system to ignore this little switch," Suffredini said.

The Russians, who reactivated some of the cooling systems on the station that had been disabled by the computer problems, are letting the computers run overnight to make sure they are stable, he said. If the computers are still operating normally on Saturday, then other space station systems, including attitude positioning controls, will be brought back into operation.

"When we saw all that [working again] it was an indication that things have changed and changed for the better" aboard the space station, Suffredini said. "They do appear to be running and [performing] their functions."

The two Russian computers, which control water and oxygen as well as spacecraft orientation failed Wednesday, but the crew has not been in any danger because there are backup computers and other systems onboard, according to NASA.

NASA and Russian Space Agency personnel will continue to look into the problem and conduct detailed reviews to be sure that other space station systems don't include similar switches that could hamper future missions, he said. "I think our Russian colleagues took a major step at desensitizing these computers" to the hostile environment in space, he said. "We have not seen anything like this in the past."

The problem was urgent enough that the Russian space agency had considered the prospect of sending replacement parts into space next month -- two weeks earlier than a supply rocket was scheduled to depart -- if repairs couldn't be made, NASA said.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Todd R. Weiss

Computerworld
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?