Spaceflight Now STS-100

Russia defies NASA, continues Soyuz countdown

Posted: April 27, 2001 at 11:25 a.m. EDT

Soyuz rocket sits on the launch pad poised for launch to the international space station. Photo: Anatoly Zak/Spaceflight Now
Senior NASA managers are pressing Russian space officials to delay launch of U.S. millionaire space tourist Dennis Tito to permit the Endeavour astronauts to remain aboard the outpost until Monday.

That would give flight controllers additional time to make sure the station's complex computer system is operating properly - while the shuttle crew is there to help out - after a string of crippling malfunctions earlier this week.

The Russians are continuing to prepare the Soyuz TM-32 vehicle for launch Saturday at 3:38 a.m. EDT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. But NASA officials say discussions are continuing this morning and that as of 10:30 a.m., no final decisions had been made.

It is not yet known what NASA might do if the Russians press ahead with an on-time launch and a docking Monday. Regardless of Russian comments to the contrary, NASA managers say it would be unsafe for a Soyuz to dock with the station while a shuttle is in place without first carrying out a detailed engineering analysis of clearances, possible radio frequency interference, abort options and other issues.

If the Russians launch on time anyway, NASA would either have to undock earlier than desired or accept the additional risk of a Soyuz docking with the shuttle in place.

Either way, NASA sources say, already chilly relations between the former Cold War rivals would deteriorate to a new low, raising serious questions about the long-term viability of the international partnership.

Aboard the space station, meanwhile, astronaut Susan Helms finally located a missing computer hard drive loaded with software that would let the crew use a laptop computer to operate the motor-driven bolts holding the Italian Raffaello cargo module in place.

The astronauts plan to demate the module later today using the station's primary computer system to drive the common berthing mechanism bolts. Astronaut Scott Parazynski, operating the shuttle's robot arm, then will mount the module in Endeavour's cargo bay for return to Earth.

But if additional problems crop up like those that hobbled the computer system earlier this week, the laptop software in question would provide yet another way to release the module from its docking port in a worst-case failure scenario.

Only one of the station's three central command-and-control computers - C&C-2 - is operational at this time. Engineers attempted to reinitialize C&C-3 earlier this morning, but the computer failed to reboot properly. Flight controllers believe they understand what caused the failure and that it will boot up normally when they make a second attempt later this morning.

The third C&C computer - C&C-1 - is thought to have physical problems with its internal hard drive. The astronauts plan to replace it later this afternoon with an unused but identical payload control computer. That machine then will be initialized with pristine C&C software.

NASA managers want at least two operational C&C computers before proceeding with Raffaello's undocking.