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Space station visit OK'd despite dead computer

| Sunday, April 13, 2014, 7:27 p.m.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA is pressing ahead with the planned launch on Monday of a supply ship despite a critical computer outage at the International Space Station, promising the situation is safe.

Mission managers decided on Sunday to proceed with the countdown for the SpaceX capsule, Dragon, a month late in delivering more than 2 tons of cargo.

“We're good to go,” NASA space station program manager Mike Suffredini said.

Suffredini noted the many important supplies aboard the Dragon, including a new spacesuit and repair parts for the older spacesuits in orbit. Much-needed food is packed away.

“There's a certain amount of urgency to go ahead and get these vehicles” at the space station, he said. These shipments have to fit around other space station operations, such as crew comings and goings.

“Things start to bunch up,” Suffredini said, “and so we're just trying to fly as soon as we safely can, which is what we believe we're doing.”

This backup computer, on the outside of the space station, mysteriously failed to work when activated on Friday. The main computer kept operating perfectly, and the six-man crew was never in danger. NASA debated whether to delay the SpaceX mission and, eventually, determined the station has sufficient redundancy to safely support the visiting vessel.

A spacewalk will be required, meanwhile, to replace the bad computer. Engineers don't know why it failed.

Suffredini said the spacewalk will be conducted by a pair of astronauts on April 22, using suits outfitted with new fan components to avoid the near-disaster that occurred last summer. An Italian astronaut almost drowned when his helmet flooded with water from the suit's cooling system.

An April 22 spacewalk will give SpaceX two chances to get its unmanned Dragon capsule flying. Good weather is forecast for the 4:58 p.m. launch on Monday. If that doesn't work, the next launch attempt for the California company's Falcon rocket would be Friday.

NASA rushed material for the computer replacement job to the Cape Canaveral launch site during the weekend, for packing into the Dragon. While not essential, the gasket-like item will make the task easier for the astronauts.

For the past few years, NASA has paid SpaceX — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. — and Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. to keep the station well-stocked. The need arose when the space shuttles — NASA's workhorses for station shipments — were retired in 2011. Russia, Europe and Japan make occasional deliveries.

As soon as the Dragon soars, the space station's solar panels will be moved into the proper position for its arrival, Suffredini said. That will guard against any complications resulting from computer breakdowns. Luckily, the sun's angle is favorable for thermal conditions at the outpost, he noted.

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