At approximately 9:45 a.m. EST Tuesday, February 19, 2013, the International Space Station lost communications with the ground. During this period, flight controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, were updating software aboard the space station’s flight computers. As this was happening, one of the station’s data relay systems experienced a malfunction.
The primary computer that handles the station’s functions then defaulted to one of the orbiting laboratory’s backup computers. For some reason, this computer would not allow the space station to communicate with the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite system that NASA employs to allow for communications to the ground.
Mission Control was able to communicate with the Expedition 34 crew as the station passed over ground stations located in Russia at around 11:00 a.m. EST. During this time, they instructed the crew to bring a backup computer online so that the job of restoring normal communications could begin.
Expedition 34’s commander, Kevin Ford, informed controllers that everything was fine and the crew was okay. Communications have been restored.
In a tweet just an hour prior to the communications loss, Chris Hadfield, with the Canadian Space Agency tweeted about the computer upgrade, by saying the folllowing, “Good Morning, Earth! Today we transition the Space Station’s main computers to a new software load. Nothing could possibly go wrong.” Hadfield will become the first Canadian commander of the space station when Ford returns to Earth next month.
NASA launched the latest of the space agency’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, TDRS-K, on Jan. 30, 2013, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. NASA tapped the venerable United Launch Alliance Atlas V in the 401 configuration to send the satellite into orbit.