In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream ... At Tech Support - InformationWeek

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In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream ... At Tech Support

If you think it's a pain fixing computers and maintaining a network across a campus, try working with buggy machines in orbit. On deadline, NASA technicians were struggling with a recurring problem in the computers on the International Space Station, which speeds around the Earth at over 17,000 miles per hour, 240 miles straight up.

The problem started Tuesday night, when the station's primary command-and-control computer "basically locked up," according to a NASA spokesman. As of Thursday, a backup machine was online and running the station's operations, while the primary and another backup remained offline.

Diagnosing the bug has been complicated because the error keeps ground control from getting telemetry from the damaged systems, so NASA still doesn't fully understand what's wrong. It seems to be a problem with the chips communicating with their hard drives, says the spokesman. The affected computers were all running software custom-written by ISS manufacturers Boeing Co. and Honeywell International Inc., and operating in Ada, an internationally standardized programming language originally developed by the Department of Defense.

For the time being, neither the station, the docked space shuttle, nor the crew are at risk. But NASA says if the bug isn't fixed, it may keep the shuttle there few extra days and delay Saturday's launch of a Russian supply capsule.

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