Mir struggles with capricious computer
"Capricious" is not a word often used to describe space technology - unless, of course, referring to Hal, the megalomaniac fictional computer in 2001; A Space Odyssey. But, then, nor is "jinxed", although that is what Mir increasingly seems to be.
The breakdown was the third computer failure within three months, and is yet another addition to the station's litany of setbacks. These include a fire, a prang with a cargo ship, oxygen supply problems, and a Russian commander - now back on earth - who complained of a heart flutter.
However, a spokesman for Mission Control outside Moscow, said last night that the crew had managed to repair the computer. But he added that it still had to be restarted and the crew were likely to try and switch it back on after a radio exchange with ground control about 9am today.
Scientists were yesterday at a loss to say exactly why the computer abruptly turned itself off, after it declared an emergency and blacked out. "The computer has become capricious again," said Valery Lyndin, a Russian spokesman. The crew promptly closed down most vital systems - including the oxygen supply system and gyrodynes that keep Mir aligned to the sun - to save power while they searched for the fault.
Although the three crew on board are not considered by their controllers to be in any danger, computer failure is among the more serious of the 1,500 (mostly minor) breakdowns that Mir has experienced during its 11 years in space.
When a crew member unplugged the main computer by mistake in July, it sent Mir drifting into space for about a day while the crew groped around the darkness with torches. There were further problems last month, when a computer section crashed during a redocking manoeuvre. Yesterday Pavel Vinogradov, Mir's engineer, said that this time Mir was maintaining its position.
Last weekend, Mir's controllers had hoped to stem the tide of mishaps and bad publicity by announcing that they had found a hole in Spektr, the science module damaged when a cargo ship crashed into it in June. After a space walk that lasted nearly six hours, Dr Foale and Anatoly Sovolyov, the station commander, returned without having found a puncture.
Yesterday's events will inevitably contribute to Russia's increasingly defensive posture over Mir, as questions continue in the United States over whether the $472m that Nasa is paying Russia for the use of the station is money well spent.
Emergency landing at Heathrow sparks further controversy over London airport capacity
Unrest may spread across Europe, warns Red Cross chief
French government seeks to ban extreme right-wing group
BNP and EDL accused of attempt to fuel racial hatred after Woolwich terror attack
You want to get an Eton scholarship? All you need to do is answer four (not so simple) questions
- 1 What, let gays get married? We must be bonkers
- 2 Rocky Horror star Tim Curry 'suffers major stroke'
- 3 Exclusive: How MI5 blackmails British Muslims
- 4 Lord of the Sings: Sir Christopher Lee, 91, to release heavy metal album
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.