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Tito launch to go on schedule

crew
Endeavour pilot Jeff Ashby, left, Alpha crew member Susan Helms, center, and Endeavour mission specialist John Phillips answer questions from reporters on Friday  

Space station computer problems linger

April 27, 2001
Web posted at: 6:51 p.m. EDT (2251 GMT)

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas (CNN) -- NASA and the Russian Space Agency agreed to go ahead with the schedule launch Saturday morning of a Soyuz rocket carrying space tourist Dennis Tito to the International Space Station, even as astronauts on the shuttle Endeavour rushed to repair computer problems aboard the station.

The Russians said they would delay the Soyuz's docking to the station if more time was needed to resolve the computer problems.

NASA extended Endeavour's mission by one day and was considering adding another to give computer experts time to fix the problem and perform a test of Alpha's new Canadian-built robot arm.

The Soyuz is set to launch Saturday at 3:37 a.m. EDT from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The rocket will carry two cosmonauts and Tito, who reportedly is paying $20 million for the trip. If launched Saturday, it would arrive on Monday.

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If Endeavour was still docked with the space station when the Soyuz arrived, the Russian rocket would come very close to shuttle's tail, according to shuttle flight director Phil Engelauf.

Interfax reported that Russian space agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov said the decision to go ahead with the Saturday launch was reached after the head of the Russian space agency, Yuri Koptev, spoke by telephone with NASA administrator Dan Goldin.

A robotics test originallyy was scheduled for Wednesday, but all three so-called command-and-control computers on Alpha shut down. One of the computers is operating again, but NASA prefers to have at least one backup computer running before conducting robotics tests, according to NASA spokeswoman Eileen Hawley.

The test will involve using the new arm, called Canadarm2, to hand its 3,000-pound packing crate to the shuttle's arm -- a maneuver designed to test the new arm's flexibility.

NASA said a hard drive may have failed in one of the other two computers. The crew was planning to swap it out with another computer on Alpha. Ground controllers sent up an older version of software to the other failed machine, but that did not fix it, according to Mission Control commentator James Hartsfield.

If the computer problems on Alpha are resolved, the robot arm "handshake" will take place Saturday. The new arm will lift its packing crate and hand it to the shuttle arm, which will stow it in Endeavour's payload bay for returned to Earth.

If NASA cannot get at least two command-and-control computers working, the packing crate will be left hanging on the new arm until the next shuttle crew arrives in June, space station flight director John Curry said.

"I think, in the short time, it would stay there until the next flight," Curry said

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The space shuttle's arm grabs the Raffaello module on Friday  

In other activities, NASA was able to use the shuttle's robot arm to grab an Italian-built cargo module off the side of Alpha and put it back in Endeavour's cargo bay.

The module, called Raffaello, brought up to Alpha 10,000 pounds of supplies -- from food and clothes to science experiments and racks to hold them. It had been attached to the side of Alpha for unloading.

The shuttle crew also used Endeavour's thrusters to boost Alpha's orbit. The re-boost had been delayed by the computer problems. Shuttles routinely are used to push Alpha higher in space, keeping the space station in a safe orbit.

Endeavour originally was scheduled to land Monday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The shuttle now will land no earlier than Tuesday.



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