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Space station computer crashes again

作者:周爝苑    发布时间:2019-03-06 12:16:00    

By Nicola Jones After yet another computer crash on the International Space Station on Tuesday, a NASA spokesman has told New Scientist that the station’s spinning hard drives may be replaced with units with no moving parts. These could work better in orbit, as the lack of gravity is much less likely to affect solid state components than moving ones. The station’s central command computers have suffered many glitches since the station opened. All three crashed during the last shuttle mission in April 2001, causing the station’s communication system with Earth to go down. One of the computers crashed again on Tuesday, crippling the station’s robotic arm and delaying the installation of several air tanks to the outside of the station. NASA spent several hours debating whether to abandon the large arm in favour of using a smaller robotic arm on the shuttle. But a full reboot of the computer seemed to solve the problem and the operation went ahead as planned. Kelly Humphries, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston says they are not sure if it was a hardware or software problem that caused the computer to “hang up”. Some computer trouble is to be expected he says: “computers will be computers.” But NASA is trying to make the system more stable. Moving parts in the computers’ hard drives, which spin just like those in desk-top computers, are thought to be causing some of the problems. Vibrations from docking shuttles could cause these kinds of drives to crash, and the parts are not specifically designed to work in a zero gravity environment. Humphries says: “We have plans to move to a solid state hard drive towards the end of this year.” These have no moving parts. But Chris Tofts from Hewlett-Packard labs in Bristol, UK says that solid state hard drives could have their own problems in space. The usual cause of crashes in these drives is radiation, he says, and the station is bombarded by cosmic rays. Shielding is in place but is unlikely to block all the rays. “Radiation can flip the quantum states of the stuff that’s storing the data,” he says. “Effectively you’re passing charge through stuff that’s charge sensitive. They’re not liable to like it very much.” While replacing the central command computers might sound like a sensitive operation, Humphries says it should not be too difficult. Two of the computers were replaced after the April crash without problems. Humphries adds that the station can “run on an even keel” for weeks at a time even with all three control computers off-line. Vital systems like lights, temperature control and air circulation can be run manually by NASA staff on Earth if necessary. The space station also suffered from leaking pipes during the installation of its new airlock this weekend, though this is not causing serious problems. As astronauts connected the plumbing that would deliver cooling water to the new airlock, about two cups of water spilled out. That was much bigger than the small leak they expected, but the system is now working. A pipe circulating air between the station and the airlock was also discovered to have a small leak after being switched on for the first time. The leak does not pose a safety hazard, but will make it difficult to pressurise and depressurise that part of the station accurately. Astronauts were unable to fix the leak,

 

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