NASA Restores Contact with Space Station

International Space Station as seen from NASA space shuttle.
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. (Image credit: NASA)

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.

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"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.

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Miriam Kramer
Staff Writer

Miriam Kramer joined as a Staff Writer in December 2012. Since then, she has floated in weightlessness on a zero-gravity flight, felt the pull of 4-Gs in a trainer aircraft and watched rockets soar into space from Florida and Virginia. She also served as's lead space entertainment reporter, and enjoys all aspects of space news, astronomy and commercial spaceflight.  Miriam has also presented space stories during live interviews with Fox News and other TV and radio outlets. She originally hails from Knoxville, Tennessee where she and her family would take trips to dark spots on the outskirts of town to watch meteor showers every year. She loves to travel and one day hopes to see the northern lights in person. Miriam is currently a space reporter with Axios, writing the Axios Space newsletter. You can follow Miriam on Twitter.