Station comm glitch assessed; crew in no danger

A procedural issue during a software update aboard the International Space Station Tuesday briefly knocked the lab's satellite communications system out of action, but flight controllers radioed up a work-around during a pass over a Russian ground station and the problem was resolved.

"This morning, at approximately 9:45 a.m. EST, the International Space Station experienced a loss of communication with the ground," NASA said in a brief web page update. "At that time, flight controllers in Houston were updating the software onboard the station's flight computers when one of the station's data relay systems malfunctioned. The primary computer that controls critical station functions defaulted to a backup computer, but was not allowing the station to communicate with NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellites.

"Mission Control Houston was able to communicate with the crew as the space station flew over Russian ground stations before 11:00 a.m. EST and instructed the crew to connect a backup computer to begin the process of restoring communications."

In a brief exchange with flight controllers Expedition 34 commander Kevin Ford reported "just FYI, the station's still flying straight, everybody's in good shape, of course, nothing unexpected other than lots of caution and warning tones and of course, we have no system insight. We'll get back to you as soon as we can."

In the Japanese Kibo lab module, a ventilation fan shut down, but Ford said "all the systems and power supplies look like they're doing just fine."

During the next pass over a Russian ground station around 12:34 p.m., flight controllers confirmed the laptop was able to re-establish communications through the NASA satellite system and shortly after that, the station's systems were reconfigured to restore normal communications.

A NASA spokesman said the initial problem was caused by a procedural issue, not a hardware malfunction.

  • William Harwood

    Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He covered 129 space shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia."