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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 8:01 pm 
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Russians consider moving up cargo ship mission to bring new parts to space station

Associated Press
Jun. 15, 2007 09:49 AM

HOUSTON - Russian space officials said Friday they were considering moving up the launch of a Russian cargo ship as cosmonauts aboard the international space station struggled for a second day to reboot failed computers controlling the orbiting outpost's orientation.

The problem started with a spike in static electricity while cables were being hooked up to the station's solar panels, said Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of the Russian state-controlled rocket builder RKK Energiya.
He said Russian officials were considering moving up the launch of a Progress cargo ship by two weeks to July 23 to bring up some new parts.

If the navigation systems aren't fixed, the station's orbit will drop by about 37 miles, to about 200 miles above the Earth, by September - not an alarming amount, according to Russian Mission Control chief Vladimir Solovyov.

"We have enough time to calmly deal with the situation," Solovyov said. "There is no need to rush."

Engineers also disconnected the Russian oxygen generating system, called Elektron, since it is dependent on the problematic computers, Solovyov said, but he added the station had enough oxygen for up to 90 days, Russian officials said.

Space shuttle Atlantis is docked at the space station, so its thrusters can help maintain the station's position if necessary.

Cameras, computer laptops and some lights on Atlantis were turned off Thursday to save energy in case it needs to stay an extra day to help. The mission had already been extended from 11 to 13 days so astronauts could conduct a spacewalk Friday to repair a thermal blanket that came loose during launch.
"We've had computer failures before, and we have coped with the problem, but now the situation is much more complicated," cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov said on NTV television. "We have the shuttle docked to the station, and active work is going on at the station - the Americans' space walk. We must maintain the station's orientation."

NASA said the engineers tried turning off and on the power between the U.S. and Russian sections before rebooting the computers to test if perhaps a bad connection between the Russian side and a pair of new solar arrays might be the problem. They were still testing that theory Friday morning.

"A power line has a certain magnetic field around it, and that can affect systems near it," said Mike Suffredini, NASA's space station program manager. "This is the leading theory."

The new solar arrays were connected by the Atlantis crew on Monday. If the power feed from those arrays turns out to be the problem, the Russian section can still get power from other solar arrays.

This type of massive computer failure had never been seen before on the space station, although individual computers do fail periodically. NASA has said that in a worst-case scenario, the space station's three crew members might have to return to Earth early if the computers can't be fixed.

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, called the chances of abandoning the space station because of the computer problem "remote."

"We're still a long way from where we would have to de-man the space station," Gerstenmaier said.
Friday afternoon, astronauts James Reilly and Danny Olivas planned to climb out of the space station to staple down the thermal blanket that peeled back during Atlantis' launch.

The blanket, covering an engine pod, protects part of the shuttle from the blazing heat of re-entry. While engineers don't believe it would endanger the spacecraft during landing, it could cause enough damage to require repairs on the ground.

NASA has focused intensely on any problems that could jeopardize a shuttle's re-entry into Earth's atmosphere since shuttle damage resulted in the 2003 Columbia disaster that killed seven astronauts.
Training for spacewalk tasks can take months, but Olivas only has had a day to prepare for the repair job. Mission Control had only a few days to develop the procedures, which will use a medical stapler and loop-headed pins to secure the blanket corners in place against protective tile.

While Olivas repairs the blanket, Reilly will install on the outside of the station's U.S. section a valve that will be used for its oxygen-generating machine. Once both tasks are done, the astronauts will help retract a 115-foot solar wing that NASA wants folded up into a storage box so it can be moved later.

The array is now only halfway folded up after two days of efforts by Mission Control and astronauts at the space station. Mission Control hopes the spacewalking astronauts can help shake loose some stuck wires on the solar wing.

The computer problems also created a small inconvenience for the shuttle astronauts: Because the routine dumping of the astronauts' waste from the space shuttle requires a change in orientation, the Atlantis crew was told to use the toilet in the Russian section of the space station so that the shuttle's doesn't overflow.
Associated Press Writer Vladimir Isachenkov contributed to this report from Korolyov, Russia.
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