Astronauts fix another failed computer on shuttle

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CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. (AP) - The pilots on NASA’s last space shuttle flight fixed another one of their main computers Friday after it failed and set off an alarm that shattered their sleep.

NASA declared all five of Atlantis’ primary computers to be working, pending evaluation of the latest shutdown.

Computer failures like this are extremely rare in orbit, said lead flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho. The two problems appear to be quite different, he noted. The first was caused by a bad switch throw; the second possibly by cosmic radiation.

“The fact that we did have two computer failures on a same flight on a spacecraft that’s otherwise performing beautifully, that’s not at all lost on me,” Alibaruho told reporters.

“I do have a saying that you’re not paranoid if they really are after you, so I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll have a healthy data-processing system” for Atlantis’ undocking and return to Earth next week, he added. “But we will be watching closely.”

Atlantis’ commander, Christopher Ferguson, said the alarm sounded an hour or so after the four astronauts had gone to bed, during the deepest part of their sleep.

“We all woke up and looked at one another, and we were wondering really what was going on,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday morning. The astronauts rushed to the flight deck and switched to a backup computer. Within a half-hour they were back in bed.

The first computer failure occurred just before Sunday’s docking by Atlantis to the International Space Station on Sunday. New software loads took care of both problems, at least for now.

The five computers are critical for a space shuttle’s return to Earth _ so crucial that multiple shutdowns, in certain circumstances, could prompt an early return home. Atlantis is due to make the last landing of the 30-year space shuttle era next Thursday.

Ferguson and his co-pilot, Douglas Hurley, said they’re still too busy moving items back and forth between the linked Atlantis and space station to dwell on the looming end of the shuttle program. The shuttle delivered several tons of food, clothes and other household goods for the station; it will return loaded with old station equipment and trash.

The topic came up at Thursday’s special all-American dinner of grilled chicken, barbecued beef, baked beans, corn and Hostess apple pie. Ferguson said he told the nine other space fliers, “Hey, you know, this is the last joint meal that we’re ever going to have aboard a space shuttle.”

“It’s a little bit of a sobering, somber moment,” Ferguson said. “But at the same time, we’re extremely fortunate to have had 37 missions, I think, to the International Space Station now, so we’re very lucky to have done this.”

Hurley said his most memorable moment of the 13-day mission, so far, was seeing the faces of the two astronauts who were outside, just a few feet away, as he operated the robot arm during Tuesday’s spacewalk, the last one of the shuttle program.

“It really seemed like it was out of a science fiction movie,” he said. “You could see the expression on their faces.”

Another highlight for Hurley: an “incredible” aurora australis, or southern lights, on Thursday night.

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