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Software update knocks out Space Station communications

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A software update took down the main communications system for the International Space Station on Tuesday, leaving astronauts reliant on 1960s technology to phone home to systems administrators.

"Flight controllers were in the process of updating the station’s command and control software and were transitioning from the primary computer to the backup computer to complete the software load when the loss of communication occurred," said NASA in a statement.

"Mission Control Houston was able to communicate with the crew as the space station flew over Russian ground stations before 11:00 a.m. EST and instructed the crew to connect another computer to begin the process of restoring communications."

The update borked the ISS's connection to the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS), a network of satellites in geosynchronous orbit used by the US to communicate seamlessly in space. Without it the astronauts had to wait until they were in range of ground stations, much as the Apollo missions did back in the 1960s.

In an audio report, Commander Kevin Ford told mission control that all systems are now back online, apart from a small problem in the gym module that they now have under control. All six crew members are now carrying on with their duties as normal.

Fans of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and his Twitter feed (which includes several of us here at Vulture Annex) will be getting their next fix soon enough now that the communications systems are back online. Oddly enough, Hadfield tweeted about the update, and appears to have tempted fate.

NASA said the odd glitch was not uncommon, but the timing is a little awkward for the agency since it is hosting a series of media events on the station this week. Social media followers will have a chance to chat with three of the astronauts on Wednesday and a Google+ hangout is scheduled from Friday. ®

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