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[ISN] Houston, Windows Has Problems
From: William Knowles (wkC4I.ORG)
Date: Sat Apr 07 2001 - 20:04:59 CDT
by Leander Kahney
2:00 a.m. Apr. 7, 2001 PDT
The new International Space Station is already suffering from computer
problems similar to those experienced on Mir.
The space station, which has been operational for less than five
months, experiences almost daily computer glitches, according to the
commander's log recently published on the Web.
Most of the problems appear to be related to Microsoft's Windows NT,
while Russian-made software seems to be more reliable.
"The day really gets off to a bad start," writes Commander Bill
Shepherd in an entry dated February 22. "The server connection to the
(Net) is down hard. We worked on it last night until 0100 and could
not bring it up..."
"...At about 2200, we were reconfiguring some mail files which, with a
lot of help from Windows NT, got put in the wrong place during the
According to Shepherd's acronym-filled log, the problems are mostly
minor glitches related to e-mail and the stability of the huge space
The network appears to be a mix between Sun AIX (Unix) and Windows NT
servers and Russian laptops running an unspecified operating system.
The various machines are linked via Ethernet and a low-speed, wireless
The log seems to indicate that the crew is using Microsoft Outlook as
their e-mail client.
The February 22 entry also details problems with the printer, some
network cards and network cables.
After hours of fiddling, Shepherd and the two Cosmonauts eventually
fixed the problem. Typically, the solution to the problem is a mystery
"We are having a hard time understanding the how and why, but
everything is working," Shepherd wrote.
The International Space Station is a joint effort between 16
countries, including the United States, Russian, European and Japanese
space agencies. It has been manned since November.
The first crew, commanded by Shepherd, were charged with adding the
U.S.-built Destiny lab module to two Russian-built modules previously
in orbit. They also performed space walks and unfurled the station's
giant solar panels.
Most of the problems the crew ran into during their four-and-a-half
month stay appear to be unrelated to these complex tasks. But the crew
was concerned with routine things such as frozen printers, lost e-mail
and an uncooperative network.
Consider this series of entries from the middle of January.
January 21: "We are continuing to see some strange things on our
January 22: "Sergei is still having difficulties with his e-mail."
January 23: "The file server is acting up."
January 24 : "We are still having unusual e-mail problems."
Despite the glitches, Shepherd's entries never indicated that he lost
However, some parts of the text have been edited to allow for the
uninhibited exchange of information. According to NASA, crew members
might be shy about saying what's on their minds if they are conscious
of it going in the public record. Material edited from the logs is
identified as "redacted." Shepherd's log contains quite a lot of
Although it's not easy to say whether the problems are restricted to
U.S.-made software and hardware alone, the only praise Shepherd
expresses is toward a couple of Russian-made software applications.
In the space of about six sentences, he describes a pair of mapping
and star field applications as "excellent," "outstanding even by
Russian standards" and "very slick."
"If we could get a couple of large format LCD screens to hang in front
of the Central Post, we could give (the Star Ship) Enterprise a run,"
Shepherd's log is an exhaustive diary of the daily routine of the
Most of it describes the unpacking of equipment, setting up the
station, running experiments, exercising on the treadmill (which also
suffers from constant glitches) and filming everything with IMAX
The log also provides insight into the awesome complexity of the
At one point, a small washer is lost in the cabin. Houston mission
control is worried in case it finds its way into a critical component.
"Houston is discussing unhooking everything we just made up, as
nobody's sure the washer won't get into something critical," Shepherd
wrote. "We are determined not to lose the day's work, and we are
hunting the entire lab for the washer. No joy."
"We pop the rack out of its fittings and shake it to bring the washer
up. This also does not work. We finally inventory every loose launch
fastener in the lab, and we are still short one washer.
"We finally get the word around 0430 that ground has decided the
filtration screens in the rack systems will block the washer, and we
call it a night."
"Communications without intelligence is noise; Intelligence
without communications is irrelevant." Gen Alfred. M. Gray, USMC
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