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Space station computer fails; walk ordered to replace it

| Saturday, April 12, 2014, 9:39 p.m.
The International Space Station is carrying six astronauts — three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA has ordered spacewalking repairs for a serious computer outage at the International Space Station.

A backup computer for some robotic systems failed on Friday. The main computer is fine and the six-man crew is safe, but the malfunction puts this week's supply run in jeopardy.

Mission managers agreed on Saturday that a spacewalk is needed to replace the bad computer. But officials want one more day before deciding whether the situation is safe enough in orbit to proceed with Monday's SpaceX launch as planned.

NASA promised to decide on Sunday whether to delay the delivery mission.

No date for the spacewalk has been set yet; officials indicated it could occur sometime in the next week or so. The job is among those practiced by the astronauts before flight.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule holds more than 2 tons of station supplies and science experiments at Cape Canaveral. The shipment is already a month late for unrelated reasons.

If the Dragon soars on Monday — launch time is 4:58 p.m. EDT — then it would reach the orbiting lab on Wednesday.

Flight controllers want to make sure enough redundancy exists at the space station before committing to the launch.

The bad computer, called an MDM or multiplexer-demultiplexer, is among more than a dozen on the outside of the space station, used to route commands to various systems.

Officials said the failure has had no impact on the scientific and other work being conducted by the astronauts.

NASA is paying the California-based SpaceX — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. — as well as Orbital Sciences Corp. of Virginia to deliver space station goods. Russia, Europe and Japan also perform occasional shipments. The U.S. space shuttles carried up the bulk of station equipment until their retirement in 2011.

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