Mir struggles with capricious computer

There have been many times when the British-born astronaut Michael Foale has appeared to be living in an Arthur C Clarke story, but rarely more so than yesterday. He and his Russian colleagues were compelled to shut down most of the Mir space station's systems because of what controllers called a "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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent