Feeds

Dodgy wet wiring caused ISS computer crash

Russian-American astro-bickering should cease forthwith

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

The guidance computers aboard the International Space Station (ISS) did not fail because of the newly-installed power systems, as initially supposed. It was actually a single corroded connection and "shocking" circuit design that caused the control systems to power down back in June.

Writing for the IEEE publication Spectrum, ex-NASA staffer James Oberg dissects an internal report into the crash that he says left international relations between the US and Russian team on board the ISS at an all-time low:

The technological and diplomatic lessons of that crisis need to be fully understood and appreciated. Because if the failure had occurred on the way to Mars, say, it probably would have been fatal, and it will likely be the same international partnership that builds the hardware for a future Mars mission.

So what actually went wrong? The official (internal) report concludes that poor insulation and a faulty dehumidifier meant that a crucial connection in the Russian computer system corroded. When it shorted out, an event described as "inevitable", the design of the circuit was such that the failure also took out the rest of the system.

"In a shocking design flaw there was a 'power off' command leading to all three of the supposedly redundant processing units," Oberg writes.

This was supposed to protect the main computers from wobbles in the power supply that the ordinary power filters could not handle. But "in a failure unanticipated by its designers, this one command path itself was able to kill all three processing units due to a single corrosion-induced short".

So when the engineers hooked the computer system up to a new power source with jumper cables, they simply bypassed the problem area.

Oberg says the response to the crash as much as the fault itself needs to be considered. The Russian managers, he says, immediately went on the attack, accusing the Americans and their new solar panel power source of causing the problem. He goes on to describe this as one of many "bad guesses" that impeded the investigation.

We'd argue that the tendency of both parties to seek to blame the other for problems will need to be dealt with, if larger-scale collaborative space exploration is to succeed.

You can read more of Oberg's analysis here. ®

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
The cloud that goes puff: Seagate Central home NAS woes
4TB of home storage is great, until you wake up to a dead device
Azure TITSUP caused by INFINITE LOOP
Fat fingered geo-block kept Aussies in the dark
You think the CLOUD's insecure? It's BETTER than UK.GOV's DATA CENTRES
We don't even know where some of them ARE – Maude
Want to STUFF Facebook with blatant ADVERTISING? Fine! But you must PAY
Pony up or push off, Zuck tells social marketeers
Yahoo! blames! MONSTER! email! OUTAGE! on! CUT! CABLE! bungle!
Weekend woe for BT as telco struggles to restore service
Oi, Europe! Tell US feds to GTFO of our servers, say Microsoft and pals
By writing a really angry letter about how it's harming our cloud business, ta
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Internet Security Threat Report 2014
An overview and analysis of the year in global threat activity: identify, analyze, and provide commentary on emerging trends in the dynamic threat landscape.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.