Cargo transfers 70 percent done; computer failure wakes astronauts

Editor's note...
  • Posted at 05:43 AM EDT, 07/14/11: More unpacking for shuttle, station crews
  • Updated at 09:50 AM EDT, 07/14/11: Astronauts pleased with progress of smooth mission
  • Updated at 06:20 PM EDT, 07/14/11: Cargo transfers 70 percent complete
  • Updated at 07:05 PM EDT, 07/14/11: General purpose computer No. 4 fails
CBS News

The Atlantis astronauts were awakened by a master alarm Thursday when one of the shuttle's five general purpose computers apparently failed. GPC-4 was running systems management software at the time and commander Christopher Ferguson spent about 45 minutes loading that software into general purpose computer No. 2 before going back to bed.

It was not immediately clear what triggered the malfunction with GPC-4, whether the machine can be restarted later or whether additional troubleshooting will be needed. Earlier in the flight, GPC-3 shut itself down, but that was caused by a temperamental switch and the computer was successfully restarted the next day.

Video from cameras mounted on the shuttle Atlantis' twin solid-fuel boosters was released Thursday, showing spectacular views of America's final shuttle launch. (Credit: NASA TV)
The shuttle is equipped with five general purpose computers. Four of them run identical software while the fifth runs programming from a different vendor to protect against bugs that might take down the four machines in the "redundant set." During normal orbital operations, two of the redundant computers are typically in stand-by mode while one of the operational machines runs systems management software. That was the machine that failed Thursday.

The solid-fuel boosters are jettisoned two minutes and five seconds after launch. (Credit: NASA TV)
"The crew was awakened about (6:07 p.m. EDT (GMT-4)) with an error message from the shuttle, a master alarm that had to do with general purpose computer No. 4 having an issue," said Brandi Dean, the mission control commentator. "General purpose computer four has been the designated systems management computer for the on-orbit operations. That failed, and so the team here on the ground has been having the crew work through procedures to bring up the systems management operation on another general purpose computer."

Atlantis accelerates toward space as the boosters fall back. (Credit: NASA TV)
Astronaut Shannon Lucid, the overnight "capsule communicator," or CAPCOM, in mission control, thanked Ferguson for his quick work loading systems management software from Atlantis' mass memory unit into GPC-2.

"You all have done an absolutely fabulous job," she said. "We have polled the room, everyone is ready for you to go back to sleep. ... Would you like to wake up at the normal time, or wake up a little later in the morning?"

"Hey thanks for offering, Houston," Ferguson replied. "If you could add a half an hour to our wakeup time, I think that would be really nice."

Shannon agreed, and wakeup was rescheduled for 12:59 a.m. Friday.

The computer glitch was the first technical issue of any significance since Atlantis blasted off last Friday. The astronauts spent the day Thursday pressing ahead with work to unload a cargo module packed with supplies and equipment for the International Space Station, reaching the 70 percent mark in logistics transferred to date. The crew then took a half day off to relax and enjoy the view after a busy week in space before going to bed.

Aside from the computer failure, Ferguson said earler the astronauts were pleased with mission's progress, adding that Atlantis, making the shuttle program's 135th and final flight, was operating in near flawless fashion.

"This is one of the first days we've been able to take a deep breath and appreciate what we're doing up here," he told Fox News Radio. "We've been really busy for the first five, six days or so but I'd like to think it's going really well. The vehicle's really healthy, Atlantis is doing just wonderfully, It's great to see our space station friends up here. We've got our big cargo module about three quarters or so all transferred. So it's going great."

Space station Flight Director Chris Edelen said the crew "made very good progress today on transferring the remaining cargo. ... They are now 70 percent complete with the planned cargo transfer."

"Most of the cargo is now on the correct side of the hatches, the things that we were bringing up to the space station are now inside the space station, some stowed away, some waiting to be permanently stowed," he said. "And the items to be brought back to Earth, most of those items are now in the logistics module. It still looks a little bit cluttered because a lot of those items have not been placed into their return position yet, fully strapped down. That's the primary remaining task for the crew, to get all the return cargo safely stowed for the trip home."

The station's Russian crew members installed a new gyroscope in a treadmill in the Zvezda command module, attempting to revive the zero-gravity exercise device.

"We thought that by replacing that, that would restore the treadmill to operational use," Edelen said. "However, when that was installed it did not fix the problem. We are seeing the same failure signature, which is the gyroscop is receiving power but is not spinning up. So that seems to indicate the problem is upstream of the gyroscope, perhaps in the controller for that device. So we are looking at rescheduling additional maintenance to replace that controller."

The shuttle astronauts began their day around 1:30 a.m. EDT (GMT-4), enjoying R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe singing "Man on the Moon." In a personal message recorded before launch, Stipe told the astronauts "we wish you much success on your mission, and thank all the women and men at NASA who have worked on shuttle for three decades. From Earth, a very good morning to you."

"Good morning, Houston, and all we can say up here is wow," said Atlantis pilot Douglas Hurley. "We'd like to thank Mr. Michael Stipe for sending up that wonderful message and that great song. I know a lot of us up have been listening to R.E.M. for a long, long time and it's some of the greatest music. Also reminds us about the moon landing (anniversary) next week. We also echo his sentiments and thank all the great people who worked on this wonderful space shuttle. We're ready for another day in space and ready to get to work."

"We are making a rather large delivery and a lot of our time is being spent moving things onto the station and bringing things back into our cargo carrier," said astronaut Sandra Magnus, the mission's "loadmaster." "We're leaving behind about a year's supply of food and consumables as well as about a thousand pounds of science equipment and some spare parts. We're taking back with us some trash and some pieces of hardware that need to be refurbished on the ground and some other consumables that need to go home. It's keeping us pretty busy, but the station will be (well supplied) once we leave."

The shuttle-station crew planned to share what NASA billed as "an all-American meal," enjoying grilled chicken, barbecue brisket, southwestern corn, baked beans and apple pie. Recipes, or "formulations," were posted on NASA's website for anyone who wanted to participate in a "virtual" meal with the astronauts.

Before stopping for lunch, Ferguson and Magnus tried to describe their impressions of the space station, giving listeners at least a sense of the wonder they experience in orbit.

"We are indeed very fortunate to have had the experiences that we've had," said Magus, veteran of an earlier long-duration stay aboard the outpost. "I remember a moment when I was up here on Expedition 18, I was just going about my normal routine and in the course of one day, I talked to Moscow, I talked to Germany, I talked to Japan and talked to our two control centers in Houston and Huntsville.

"And then I stopped for a moment and I had one of those moments of realization, like 'wow, look what we did.' We built this huge, huge, monster laboratory orbiting the Earth using cooperation with countries all over the world and here I am living on it. It was just one of those moments you have (when) it just strikes you that wow, this is really just incredible."

Ferguson said he had his own "wow" moment during approach to the space station Sunday, when Atlantis was 600 feet directly below the lab complex.

"I'll tell you, it's just an incredibly emotional moment for those who are fortunate enough to have been in that position (to) look up and see this tremendous space station that we've built in space," he said. "It really, it makes me both humble and awestruck at what human beings, when they put their collective efforts together across a multi-national effort, can build in space. This orbiting laboratory is absolutely tremendous. And just to see it from below, it really leaves you with a feeling of awe."

The combined 10-member shuttle-station crew took the afternoon off starting at 9:44 a.m.

Reflecting on the shuttle's final voyage, Ferguson told an interviewer the space shuttle was like a first car, "you love it, you hate to see it go but you realize that every vehicle has its time."

"While I personally believe there's a little bit of lifetime left in the space shuttle, we do have to realize that if we want to go beyond and get another rocket or craft that will go outside of low-Earth orbit, the space shuttle's not the one," he said. "And eventually, we do want to go back to the moon, perhaps to Mars or an asteroid, and we're going to need to stand down a little bit and take time and take perhaps the money that was used to operate the space shuttle and instead build a new vehicle with it, which is what we plan to do."