This image from a NASA space shuttle mission shows the International Space Station in orbit. The space station is the size of a football field and home to six astronauts. Image taken: Feb. 10, 2010.
NASA has reestablished contact with the International Space Station Tuesday (Feb. 19) nearly three hours after an equipment failure left the orbiting laboratory dependent without a direct link to its Mission Control center, space agency officials said.
Space station flight controllers at NASA's Mission Control center in Houston restored contact with the space station at 12:34 p.m. ET (17:34 GMT), according to an update. The space agency lost communication with the International Space Station at 9:45 a.m. ET (1445 GMT).
"Flight controllers were in the process of updating the station’s command and control software and were transitioning from the primary computer to the backup computer to complete the software load when the loss of communication occurred," NASA officials said in a statement.
A main data relay system malfunctioned, and the computer that controls the station's critical functions switched to a backup, NASA officials said in a statement. However, the station was still was unable to communicate with the Tracking and Data Relay satellite network that serves as the outpost's link to NASA's Mission Control center on the ground. [How NASA's Satellite Communications Network Works (Infographic)]
The communications loss occurred as flight controllers at NASA's Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston were sending a software update to the space station. The space station is currently home to three Russians, two Americans and a Canadian astronaut.
NASA flight controllers were able to communicate with the spaceflyers aboard the space station before lines of communication were reestablished.
"Mission Control Houston was able to communicate with the crew as the space station flew over Russian ground stations before 11:00 a.m. EST and instructed the crew to connect a backup computer to begin the process of restoring communications," NASA officials explained.
When Mission Control made contact with the International Space Station via Russian ground stations earlier today, Expedition 34 commander Kevin Ford reported on the health and status of the space station and its residents.
"Hey, just FYI, the station's still fine and straight, everybody is in good shape of course," said Ford in audio released by NASA. "And nothing unexpected other than lots of caution warning tones, and of course we have no system in sight. We'll get that back to you as soon as we can."
This is not the first time Mission Control has lost direct communication with the orbiting science laboratory. In 2010, the space station briefly lost communication with the ground when a primary computer failed and the backup had to take over. Communications were out for about one hour before NASA restored the connection.
The International Space Station is a $100 billion laboratory in space that is about the size of a football field. It has the living space equivalent of a five-bedroom home and was built by five different space agencies representing the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan.