NASA considers postponing robotic handoff a second day

Wednesday, April 25th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) _ NASA crews made progress early Thursday in troubleshooting computer glitches, but considered postponing for a second day the robotic handoff of the international space station's 1 1/2-ton packing crate.

Instead, the crews discussed spending Thursday removing an Italian-built cargo carrier named Raffaello from the station and returning it to space shuttle Endeavour's payload bay for its return to Earth.

Computer problems on Wednesday delayed the new billion-dollar robot arm's handoff of its packing crate to a smaller, older arm attached to Endeavour in the first test of its ability to lift and hand off a load.

U.S. astronaut Susan Helms hooked up a laptop computer early Thursday and found that one of three computers needed to perform robotics action was up and running. The hookup restored Mission Control's ability to monitor station systems and send computer commands.

``We have the data,'' she said.

``You are making my day. It's been a long night,'' flight controller Bob Castle said from Mission Control.

But flight controllers wanted to ensure that at least one of the two backups was working before proceeding with the robotics action.

The crews of Endeavour and the station discussed moving up Friday's plan to put Raffaello back in the shuttle's payload bay to Thursday and conduct the robotics action Friday.

Raffaello carried 6,000 pounds of food, clothes and supplies to the station, called Alpha. While Mission Control grappled with computer problems Wednesday, the crews unloaded Raffaello faster than expected and on Thursday loaded it with trash to be returned to Earth.

NASA spokesman James Hartsfield said the laptops were sending information from the station computers to the ground so officials could analyze the problems that delayed the robotic arm handoff. Officials said the glitch was not a crisis and that all other systems on the station were operating correctly.

Flight controllers had hoped to have the problem solved when the crews awoke early Thursday.

But they needed help from Helms and U.S. astronaut Jim Voss, both aboard the station for a 4 1/2-month stay with Russian cosmonaut and commander Yuri Usachev.

Alpha has three control-and-command computers _ one main computer and two backups _ that must link up with a hard-drive server needed to test the new 58-foot robot arm. On Wednesday, none of those computers would link up with the server.

NASA said Helms and Voss could have rebooted one or all three of the computers as a last resort. This option would erase all clues as to what went wrong, said Mike Rodriggs, Mission Control's top computer technician.

Engineers said the problem almost certainly is related to software.

The problem also postponed plans Wednesday for Endeavour to raise Alpha's orbit by a few miles. The space station could not be commanded to turn off its steering system so Endeavour could assume control over the joined spacecraft.

NASA was discussing whether to complete that task Thursday or Friday as well.

The new arm, built by Canada, is a high-tech construction crane that officials say is critical to add pieces to Alpha over the next 15 to 20 years.

Endeavour delivered the arm to Alpha on Saturday, and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and U.S. astronaut Scott Parazynski installed and wired up the new arm during two spacewalks Sunday and Tuesday.