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Why ISS Computers Failed

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the triply-redundant-is-not-foolproof dept.

Space 324

Geoffrey.landis writes "It was only a small news item four months ago: all three of the Russian computers that control the International Space Station failed shortly after the Space Shuttle brought up a new solar array. But why did they fail? James Oberg, writing in IEEE Spectrum, details the detective work that led to a diagnosis." The article has good insights into the role the ISS plays as a laboratory for US-Russian technology cooperation — something that is likely to be crucial in any manned Mars mission.

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324 comments

Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20991561)

Microsoft 'stealth updates'.

The REAL reason they failed (5, Funny)

Rebelgecko (893016) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991565)

They "upgraded" to Vista.

Re:The REAL reason they failed (1, Offtopic)

compulsiveguile (1173669) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991587)

Ha ha, that's kind of funny. Vista just doesn't get any breaks on this site... ever...

Re:The REAL reason they failed (1)

pravuil (975319) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991637)

That might change when SP3 maybe even SP2 comes out...

Re:The REAL reason they failed (1, Insightful)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991667)

Vista just doesn't get any breaks on this site... ever

You're joking, I hope?

Every discussion of Vista is FULL of astroturfers defending the OS, and they're always modded up. It's almost impossible to discuss its real flaws because of all the Microsoft-sponsored noise.

Re:The REAL reason they failed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20991879)

Troll???

I really have to reconsider me being a subscriber.

Just because you don't like it doesn't make it a troll..

Re:The REAL reason they failed (3, Insightful)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991915)

Microsoft astroturfers can get mod points just like everybody else. Don't give much importance to mod points, that way you'll feel much better.

Re:The REAL reason they failed (4, Insightful)

FoolsGold (1139759) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992127)

Are you honestly saying that anyone who thinks Vista is decent is a MS shrill?

Why? Is defending a MS operating system for honest reasons impossible to believe anymore?

Re:The REAL reason they failed (0, Offtopic)

feepness (543479) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992189)

Every discussion of Vista is FULL of astroturfers defending the OS, and they're always modded up. It's almost impossible to discuss its real flaws because of all the Microsoft-sponsored noise.
Actually I like Vista and dislike XBox. What does that make me?

BZZZZZT!!!!

I mean I LIKE XBOX 360!!!!

BZZZZZT!!!!

I mean I LOVE XBOX 360!!!!

(I really don't like Xbox 360.) But I actually am quite happy with my purchase Vista after upgrading my computer one too many times for my, uh, borrowed, copy of XP.

Re:The REAL reason they failed (1)

Rebelgecko (893016) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991689)

You must be new here.
I don't think I've ever seen that meme legitimately used before on /.; thanks for the chance and welcome to Slashdot.

Re:The REAL reason they failed (1)

kb0hae (956598) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991869)

You read my mind! Thats the first thing I thought of when I saw the headline. Then again, I have heard that some russian hight tech items still use vacuum tubes!

Re:The REAL reason they failed (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20992041)

Clippy: It looks like you want to install a new solar array. Do you want help with that?

Re:The REAL reason they failed (2, Insightful)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992181)

You mean "downgraded" right?

They didn't bring the right travel adapters. (5, Funny)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991569)

Metric electricity vs Imperial electricity...

Re:They didn't bring the right travel adapters. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20991613)

what?!

Re:They didn't bring the right travel adapters. (2, Informative)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991943)

It's a joke. You're supposed to laugh or smile. The joke alludes to this [cnn.com] .

Re:They didn't bring the right travel adapters. (5, Funny)

Cassius Corodes (1084513) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991727)

Proletarian electricity refused to mix with bourgeoisie electricity.

Re:They didn't bring the right travel adapters. (4, Funny)

fractoid (1076465) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991795)

Metric electricity vs Imperial electricity...
Imperial electricity?

You... will... DIE!! *force lightningz!*

Re:They didn't bring the right travel adapters. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20991873)

Well they could have wired the UPS' up wrong!!!

Ive just been working in a school where they wired the input to the output on the UPS.

they worked for a month then just exploded!

made one hell of a firework display!

Re:They didn't bring the right travel adapters. (4, Funny)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992203)

Which every audiophile knows requires a $5000 electro magnetosphere conversion unit to filter the signal for clean power over monster sized gold plated cables with thick carbon fiber shielding.

No business blaming the US (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20991577)

Even if it had been an issue of the new solar panel messing with the Russian computers, there would still have been no reason to blame the US. As originally manifested, the Russian segment of the station was to have been powered independently of the US/European/Japanese section. The only reason any power connections between the American panels and Russian computers exist was because the Russians didn't have the cash to complete their own panels, ie the Science Power Platform.

Hmmmm. (5, Informative)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991805)

The original plans called for the ISS to be finished many years ago. It is not yet, because America has had issues with transportation. In addition, a few modules that were planned to make the ISS very useful were canceled because of us (in particular, CAM). In the end, both sides have had issues, and changes have occurred. That is normal for these kinds of projects. To be honest, I think that all of this has been handled pretty decently.

Urgh. (5, Insightful)

Airconditioning (639167) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991589)

The article reeked of condesension towards the Russians. It's no way to report on your partners in space.

Re:Urgh. (1, Funny)

Hijacked Public (999535) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991627)

If Leo Strauss taught us anything, and I think he has, it is that the Russians are to be blamed whether they deserve it or not.

Re:Urgh. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20991683)

Yeah but I don't know if the thoughts of a guy who made jeans really applies to this situation.

Re:Urgh. (2, Interesting)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992111)

You're thinking Levi Strauss. Leo Strauss was the inspiration for the NeoCon movement.

Re:Urgh. (1)

McFortner (881162) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991631)

Hey, the truth hurts. Let's face it, Russian technology is not on the same level as US, Japanese, or Korean.

Re:Urgh. (4, Funny)

UncleTogie (1004853) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991757)

Hey, the truth hurts. Let's face it, Russian technology is not on the same level as US, Japanese, or Korean.

Lev Andropov: Armageddon: "Components. American components, Russian Components, ALL MADE IN TAIWAN!

Re:Urgh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20992177)

He he, that was funny. Especially that one with US. ... or where you serious? In that case your retard ;)

Re:Urgh. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20991639)

Condensation, not condescension.

(Mold too...:)

Re:Urgh. (4, Funny)

istartedi (132515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991661)

For a split second, I thought you said it reeked of condensation towards the Russians.

Re:Urgh. (1)

Airconditioning (639167) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991771)

Yeah, I had actually freudian typo'd that and caught it in preview. But I figured it was just a little bit too cheesy to let that one through.

Though someone seems to have modded me funny anyway... life goes on.

Re:Urgh. (1)

oddaddresstrap (702574) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991999)

Haven't you heard? The Russians are the bad guys again [washingtonpost.com] .

Even our "top diplomats" have no clue when it comes to tact. You get the feeling that none of them have been to a school for international relations. Or even charm school for that matter.

Re:Urgh. (5, Interesting)

Jugalator (259273) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992109)

I agree... That's what first came to mind after having watched this incident unfold live. What he fails to mention is that the Russian engineers were always open to suggestions and they cooperated pretty well when they needed to discuss the problems. The Russians were also working nearly 24/7 on trying to find and resolve the problems and come up with theories before they were running out of time. The article makes it sound like they early on got locked into "blaming the Americans" or something. It was merely one theory that was tossed around and discussed, and diagnosed early on. If there seem to be a power failure (which it ended up being all about), surely one logically suspected culprit could be a power feed problem?

Re:Urgh. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20992151)

Yup. OK, it's a design flaw. We have been, and still are, capable of doing things just as bad, if not far worse. Look at the Shuttle fiascos.

This item is hugely biased. It looks to me like a simple case of corrosion, which could easily have been patched up if it happened on a Mars flight. The engineers and crew all seemed to work well together, and the Russians were the ones who sorted the problem.

I don't know if the Russian Program Managers got all political against us, but the item, written by a retired NASA manager, sure as hell gets political against the Russians. He's right in one thing - the managers need to stop getting political, and I suggest he starts with himself!

It's just as well he's retired - looks like he's fighting long lost battles against cooperation with the Russians and Europeans.

Duct tape saves the day! (5, Informative)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991601)

...They also decided to rig a thermal barrier out of a surplus reference book and all-purpose gray tape....


Once again, duct tape saves the day! :)

Re:Duct tape saves the day! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20991819)

Short of the duct tape part, that's the same kind of thermal barrier I use when operating my laptop computer.

Re:Duct tape saves the day! (1)

RuBLed (995686) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992179)

...They also decided to rig a thermal barrier out of a surplus reference book and all-purpose gray tape....
Hmmm.. A "surplus" reference book of what... I know they're on budget but...

Hmmm (5, Funny)

K.os023 (1093385) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991603)

Could this be the one place where it would be appropriate to mention that in Russia, crashes compute?


Or would that be "In Russia, crashes compute you!" ?

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20991957)

That would probably be "In Soviet Russia, you crash on computer"

Duct Tape (4, Insightful)

istartedi (132515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991611)

They also decided to rig a thermal barrier out of a surplus reference book and all-purpose gray tape

Almost certainly, this was the duct tape we all know and love. They probably thought it was better not to actually say that, though. Pretty funny. And as an added side-benefit, they should be safe from terrorists.

Re:Duct Tape (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991927)

Duct tape is like the Force, it has a Light side, a Dark side and it binds the Universe together

Redundancy != Safety (5, Insightful)

quanticle (843097) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991623)

I think NASA should have learned this lesson by now. After all, the Challenger disaster showed this principle as well. In that case, the same cold temperature that weakened the primary seal on the solid rocket booster weakened the secondary as well, sapping its ability to provide redundant backup. In this case, the same condensation affected all three computers equally.

Its troubling to see them taking shortcuts on safety and redundancy, when such measures have resulted in loss of life before. How hard would it have been to have had three shut-off cables?

Re:Redundancy != Safety (5, Informative)

8-bitDesigner (980672) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991731)

Two nit-picky points here:
  1. It wasn't condensation that felled all three computers, it was a single corroded connector, which shorted and sent a kill-command to all three computers. Technically, redundancy here would've circumvented that issue.
  2. Actually, I believe the article stated that it was a Russian-manufactured component, not a NASA design.

Re:Redundancy != Safety (1)

lnjasdpppun (625899) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991753)

The way I read it they did have 3 shut-off cables, the problem was each of those cables could send the shut-off signal to all 3 control systems. So when one cable detected a problem and told its control system to shut off, the other 2 control systems saw the shut-down command as well and did as they were told.

Re:Redundancy != Safety (1)

Cassius Corodes (1084513) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991759)

Actually chief - what happened was that the surge detector got wanged by the condensation and so sent a "oh noes switch off now" to all three computers. Hence why the bypass cable worked. The problem in the design was that there was a way to kill all three at once which should have been impossible.

Actually, it is easier for you to RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20991761)

than it is for them to design with 3 cables. Had you done so, it is VERY obvious that this was Russian Design and build of the hardware. IOW, you are blaming NASA for something that clearly is RSA's issue.

Re:Redundancy != Safety (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991767)

It was a Russian subsystem that failed, so don't instinctively crap on NASA for every problem in the world. That said, reliability engineering is a complex subject. It involves a lot of modeling and analysis. It isn't reducible to a few simple rules. If you think the solution is obvious, you don't understand the problem.

Re:Redundancy != Safety (3, Funny)

richie2000 (159732) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991983)

If you think the solution is obvious, you don't understand the problem.
Obviously, the solution is to understand the problem in the first place.

Re:Redundancy != Safety (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992007)

It was a Russian subsystem that failed, so don't instinctively crap on NASA for every problem in the world.

If that Russian failure had resulted in NASA astronauts dying, then it would become a NASA failure. NASA can't foist off that kind of blame.

Depends on the Redundancy (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992009)

Redundancy can equal safety and reliability, but all of the components designed to be redundant should all actually have different designs so that they have differing modes of failure. So, in the Challenger case, were the seals designed differently, they wouldn't have had the same failure mode for a given exposure.

To do this really well though, requires risk management software that I am not sure even exists. You'd have to simulate everything. The devil, as happened to Challenger, is that, there are so many variables, that you can't know apriori what your real mode of failure will be. To some extent, perhaps the best way to fly in space is to forget about excesses of safety altogether, and use the cost savings to fly more often. When something breaks, fix that.

Re:Depends on the Redundancy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20992113)

Weird thing is the Russians are notorious for doing just this with their backup systems... Typically much more so than their US comrads :)

Re:Redundancy != Safety (4, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992027)

Its troubling to see them taking shortcuts on safety and redundancy, when such measures have resulted in loss of life before. How hard would it have been to have had three shut-off cables?

At first, I was nodding in agreement. But then I realized, how do you find out when you've built in hidden single points of failure? Everyone knows that a single point of failure is bad. Hence, the ones that get into a space station weren't intended (or were due to shoddy work). One way to find them is to use the equipment in a real situation and vet it when it breaks. Exactly what they did. Now that they know this is a problem, they can fix it.

Give it a rest (4, Funny)

cioxx (456323) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991651)

Look people, I can see that ISS personnel are really upset about this. I honestly think they ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over. I know the computers had made some very poor decisions recently, but they can give explorers their complete assurance that the work will be back to normal. These machines still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And they want to help.

Re:Give it a rest (1)

tygt (792974) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991721)

Even so, I think that Frank should go out and double-check those new solar panel units...

Re:Give it a rest (1)

gbobeck (926553) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992051)

Gorram faulty AE-35 units...

Re:Give it a rest (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992135)

I'm sorry, Dave, I can't do that...

obligatory (2, Funny)

overcaffein8d (1101951) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991685)

in soviet russia, the computer crashes you!

Re:obligatory (1)

bky1701 (979071) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991777)

No! You just applied Russian Reversal in a way that (almost) makes sense! *Goes out and acts as if the world is about to end.*

Nyet, Dave. (1)

tekrat (242117) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991691)

I tried to use Google translate to put this in Russian, but Slashdot didn't want to let me cut-'n-paste it in.

Comrade Dave: Open ze Pod Bay Doors, HAL.
Comrade HAL: Nyet Comrade Dave, I cannot do that.

I wonder how you sing "Daisy Daisy" in Russian?

Re:Nyet, Dave. (4, Funny)

arivanov (12034) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991953)

Slashdot didn't want to let me cut-'n-paste it in.

Nope it does not. I guess I will have to put that in phonetic transcription:

Tovarish Dave: Otkroj luk skotina.
Tovarish HAL: Pshel na huj

I wonder how you sing "Daisy Daisy" in Russian?

Margaritka, margaritka pshla na huj

That is modern Russian, the wonderful language of Pushkin and Chehov may slightly differ..

Re:Nyet, Dave. (1)

Jehosephat2k (562701) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992153)

hello
doctor
name
continue
yesterday
tomorrow

And this shows the value of ISS (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991715)

The truth is, that MOST of this equipment will be copied or 1 offs for any lunar or trans-planetary mission. The ISS allows for true testing of it all. So far, MOST of the equipment has done a pretty good job. But it is good to know EXACTLY where it will fail.

Hate to break it to you... (3, Insightful)

patio11 (857072) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991811)

... but for equipment which is all critical, all essentially one-of-a-kind, and all lethal if compromised, there are only two safety states: failed and "has not failed... yet".

Rust proof gold anyone? (1)

WoTG (610710) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991765)

Am I reading the article correctly? Humidity caused the connections to go bad from rust? IIRC, the off the shelf ISA cards and RAM I used to get with my (now) ancient computers were gold plated.

Couldn't the ISS with it's multi billion dollar cost use contacts and cables that can't rust? Gold for contact points, aluminum for the bulk cable?

Heck, given the costs involved, it'd barely be a rounding error in the budget to use solid gold cables. One tonne of gold at $700 per ounce is about $25 million. Not that I have no idea how many critical tonnes of cabling are involved.

Re:Rust proof gold anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20991821)

It would be heavier to lift into orbit though.

Re:Rust proof gold anyone? (1)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991987)

Isn't gold a much better conductor? I thought gold wires could be so much thinner that they'd be lighter.

Re:Rust proof gold anyone? (3, Informative)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992087)

On a per weight basis Aluminum is about 6 times better than gold. Gold conducts about 20% better, but weighs about 7 times as much.

Interesting hardware problem (1)

mveloso (325617) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991781)

It's interesting that the problem eventually was a hardware problem. I suppose military designers, used to working in tight spaces and different environments, might have anticipated the problem (a submarine and a space station are probably more simlar that we'd think). For 'normal' designers, humidity isn't something that's considered an issue.

This'll get worse and worse as exploration goes farther and farther afield. Even little things like mold, dust, and the black gunk that piles up on the bottom of a mouse can become catastrophic when you're trapped in a box a couple of thousand miles away.

Using anti-bacterial (or anti-fungal) solutions in this situation may make the problem worse, because everything that survives will be even tougher to kill. Combine that with a higher level of background radiation (which should cause more mutations) and you might end up with a long mission who's crew has expired due to superbugs.

Re:Interesting hardware problem (2, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991845)

Russia has shown that they do not consider humidity to be an issue. In particular, the MIR was all but finished because it had mold everywhere.

Russia taught us a lot about space construction and staying alive in a space station. But likewise, we have also done the same. But it is obvious that there is room for more growth.

Proper debugging technique (5, Insightful)

dd1968 (1174479) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991791)

These computers functioned for months or years. When they failed, the right question to ask first was "what has changed?" This is exactly what the Russians did. According to the author the Russians first considered potential causes stemming from the newly installed solar power wing, the visiting shuttle, and the expanded station structure (the reason for the shuttle being there). One conclusion is that they were pointing the finger at NASA and playing the blame game. Another is that they were doing what good engineers anywhere would do to debug the problem.

The author is obviously way more qualified than I to assess the situation and he may well be right but from the content of the article I came away thinking, wow, I would have looked first at all the recent changes to the station and the power supply too.

Cascading failures (2, Interesting)

j-stroy (640921) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991903)

True, as a starting point.. Tho, failures tend to be things that snowball. Its sort of an anthropic principle [wikipedia.org] of failures. ie Bad things happened because failures were happening.
I have always tried to learn from air crash investigations and so on how failure modes develop. In problem solving mode, it seems one should assume the distinct possibility of multiple problems all at once.
In this case, multiple failure paths existed, tho it took a power spike to set it off as I interpretted it. Even without corrosion, it seems the system would have failed, though not irrecoverably.
I repeatedly ask the question "Is that everything? Is there anything else that could come from that?" It seems the engineers didn't perform enough diligence on the trickle down effects.

Re:Proper debugging technique (3, Insightful)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991959)

I see you have never dealt with Russians. The ones in their space program are especially tetchy about taking ANY blame whatsoever. Their equipment is always perfect, and the foreign equipment MUST be the problem. You know, how when there's a problem, you kind of step back for a second and analyze the entire situation? That's what NASA does. The Russians merely blame the first thing they can think of. Then, when that's disproven, they have a lot of other proposed explanations, none of which involve the failure of Russian equipment. It's even worse when there is a semi-plausible event like the new solar panel.

Look, the Russians as people are all right. But their management in the space program is obsessed with face. They feel that admitting any faults demeans the Russian nation and the Russian people. You can laugh but that's how it is.

Re:Proper debugging technique (2, Funny)

rs79 (71822) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991969)

Uh yeah. The detective work here involved finding some wet connectors. And it didn't sound that complicated to me.

Try debugging the electrics on an 80s BMW some time. The manual for the door locks is 3 pages thick.

Hint: fuse 11 is not your friend.

Plugs always get in the way of wire (1)

j-stroy (640921) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991799)

Too many times I have found either the front, or back side of a plug connector has a fault and breaks the current.. and to top it off, most times the plugs aren't rebuildable. It always comes down to
1) is it plugged in? (double triple check)
2) did you hit it? (twice? tap, knock and slap?)
3) did you turn it off and on (a bunch?)

Also, faulty switches.. so often a cheap switch disables an otherwise perfect device. (hence step 3)

Really bad design/construction flaw too! Methinks proper marine grade plugs would have avoided it. Fortunately these guys [youtube.com] have been working on an ISS escape system.

Lisa Marie Nowak dating app (1)

SpeedyG5 (762403) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991801)

She had it running on ISS(sp) webserver.

It's interesting... (4, Insightful)

JustShootMe (122551) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991803)

That for all of the controls and quality control required of mission critical hardware such as this, it still comes down to:

1) unexpected failure modes
2) political battles

Which really isn't a whole lot different than 1) the unexpected failure modes I see every day at work, and 2) the political wrangling (fingerpointing) that takes place when they happen. Apparently NASA and its Russian equivalent are no better than any old software company.

The lesson being, people are people, and people are still the ones that design these things.

It's not surprising (1, Funny)

ClippySay (930525) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991807)

/ You look like soviet russian. Do you  \
| break computers or do they break you? |
\ (Accept) (Yes) (Reboot) (Maybe later) /
     \
      \
       \     ____
        \   / __ \
         \  O|  |O|
            ||  | |
            ||  | |
            ||    |
             |___/

Power off command (5, Interesting)

jsse (254124) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991847)

Also, in a shocking design flaw, there was a "power off" command leading to all three of the supposedly redundant processing units.
That reminds me many years ago, when my friend worked as a programmer in a major bank writing small programs for an online international financial system. He issued an 'shutdown' command through JCL(Job Control Language) and that really shutdown the entire system. He didn't realize he had the privilege to issue administration commands. Instead of reporting the crisis to his manager, he hide away until someone figured out what's going on. Needless to say, my friend was fired.

Years later I met his manager, he told me that my friend could have been promoted for discovering one of the biggest loophole ever in the bank's history, if he had reported the problem immediately. Though the unexpected shutdown caused considerable damage, it could have saved billions from real break-in with this loophole.

That's a lesson that every engineer should have been learned. :)

Re:Power off command (1)

alxtoth (914920) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991981)

It takes a certain intellectual level to admit one's own faults. And people saying "I don't know" from time are easier to work with than people always being right

Jingoism (1, Insightful)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991875)

FTA:

It is dismaying that after decades of experience with manned space stations, Russian space engineers still couldn't keep unwanted condensation at bay. But what's worse is that they designed circuitry that would allow one spot of corrosion to fell a supposedly triply redundant control computer complex.
I find it more dismaying that an otherwise seemingly adult and mature article writer feels such an urge to childishly emphasize blame. What is it with this childish American and Russian jingoism? If blame is so important, can't you people at least blame the engineers and not the nationality?

Re:Jingoism (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991973)

Where was the jingoism? The Russians designed a "triple redundant" system with a single point of failure. In addition, it failed because it got wet and moldy. When the failure happened, the Russians pointed the finger everywhere but themselves.

Re:Jingoism (1)

LanceUppercut (766964) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992099)

LOL. Nothing like that ever happened. There was no finger poining whatsoever. The whole "finger pointing" story is a product of the imagination of Jim Oberg (he has a long track record). It is pretty obvious from the article itself: he engages in rater creative wordplay mentioning both "finger-pointing accusations" and "guesses", just to be able to flip-flop to either one when situation calls for it.

Re:Jingoism (1)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992193)

When the failure happened, the Russians pointed the finger everywhere but themselves.
The Russians showed jingoism by pointing fingers at NASA, and the article author does the same kind of jingoistic finger-pointing in return. Childish on both sides.

Nobody is perfect. No need to point fingers. Just learn and move on. Like grown-ups.

Judging from the comments, the Slashdot crowd seems more mature than these people. That's rather surprising considering the trolls and other children we have here.

Re:Jingoism (1)

dacut (243842) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992077)

I find it more dismaying that an otherwise seemingly adult and mature article writer feels such an urge to childishly emphasize blame.
I take it you haven't been in corporate circles...

If blame is so important, can't you people at least blame the engineers and not the nationality?
Or at least blame Canada...

Re:Jingoism (1)

pedestrian crossing (802349) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992115)

I find it more dismaying that an otherwise seemingly adult and mature article writer feels such an urge to childishly emphasize blame. What is it with this childish American and Russian jingoism? If blame is so important, can't you people at least blame the engineers and not the nationality?

There is a lot of history behind this.

The Americans and the Russians have always taken very different approaches to dealing with safety engineering in space. The Russians have typically taken an empirical, "what me worry?" approach. They have taken a band-aid approach to problems, and their management has mostly about burying and denying issues.

The Americans tend toward a very analytical approach, which requires an attitude of being open about issues and figuring out how they happened in the first place.

In the end, it is two very different management cultures, and for someone brought up in either culture, it is dismaying to see the other's approach.

Olberg wrote an interesting book [space.com] about it. If you keep in mind that the book was written from the American POV, it gives some pretty good insights into the clash of management cultures that has shaped US/Russian "cooperation" in space.

I hope they don't (4, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991897)

The article has good insights into the role the ISS plays as a laboratory for US-Russian technology cooperation -- something that is likely to be crucial in any manned Mars mission.

No offense to Russia or the US, both who produce good space gear, but technology cooperation is probably a bad idea unless it is tested more thoroughly than in the ISS. The ISS is a great example of how to screw up international cooperation. The station has been delayed for more than a decade (and cost NASA around $50 billion so far) due to redesign and indecision, reliance on a single launch vehicle for key components (the Shuttle), and the inclusion of the Russians. There are parts of the station that can only communicate with the Russians and parts that can only communicate with NASA. Aside from basic utility hookup (electricity), there's no connection between the different parties on the ISS (at least between the Russians and NASA, the ESA and Japanese parts might work better with NASA's stuff). And if you want to make changes that affect more than one party, it becomes by default an international issue. Finally, there's no easy way to transfer ownership. NASA's communication system is integral (TDRSS [wikipedia.org] ) to the NASA parts and is also a national secret (so I understand). So the communication system can't be transfered to another party like the Russians or the ESA.

If there's any international cooperation between space agencies, it probably should be at a rather trivial and manageable level. Say including foreign astronauts or using off the shelf equipment that is know to work under the circumstances.

Re:I hope they don't (1)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992049)

but technology cooperation is probably a bad idea unless it is tested more thoroughly than in the ISS.
That's exactly what they're doing. That's the point of the ISS. Or rather one of the points.

The only way you can test is by doing. They're running the very test you're asking for.

Re:I hope they don't (2, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992169)

Actually, they're feeding the NASA supply chain. For the money NASA spent on the ISS, they could have built 3-5 ISS's, maybe more if they eliminated the dependency on the Shuttle and used Titan IV's instead. This little bit of testing came at a very high price.

Re:I hope they don't (1)

slashdotmsiriv (922939) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992161)

"The station has been delayed for more than a decade (and cost NASA around $50 billion so far) due to redesign and indecision, reliance on a single launch vehicle for key components (the Shuttle), and the inclusion of the Russians."

This is one of the most self-contradictory sentences I've read for quite some time. Because of the inclusion of the Russians, the ISS
does not rely on a single launch vehicle! Which craft was sending astronauts and supplies when all the shuttles for grounded for years after
the Columbia disaster. Dude get a clue!

Re:I hope they don't (1)

slashdotmsiriv (922939) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992207)

"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_manned_spaceflights_to_the_ISS"

Notice missions 22-26, from 2003 to 2005? Notice that Soyuz made more than half the flights to ISS?
Now please, so some respect for the noble efforts of the seriously underfunded Russian space program...

A bit harsh on the Russians. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20991905)

Who has the worst record for space disasters again? It sounds to me like the fault wasn't with the computers but rather the dehumidifier. It was probably an American made dehumidifier.

Re:A bit harsh on the Russians. (4, Interesting)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992225)

I'm thinking it's relatively close to even. We lost 3 on the pad (early Apollo, where we learned that a full oxygen mix in a capsual with burnable stuff in it is Almost A Good Idea), & a pair of crewed space shuttles. Officially, the Russians haven't lost anybody but rumor around the water cooler is, they lost a couple when they couldn't deorbit a capsual in time and the cosmonauts ran out of oxygen, couple died on the pad in explosions, and a couple parachute failures pancaked a couple Vostoks into the Siberian tundra.

IEEE p238: Corrosive properties of alcohol (1)

tod_miller (792541) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991931)

In Soviet Russia, Jumper Cables Erode YOU!

Article sounds like 'ner ner ner they did it'

I hope perhaps that they use circuit modeling and simulations (as if that sim code could ever be wrong...) but at least ADAify, or mathematically consecrate some code for dealing with electrophysiological phenomena, such as condensation.

Yes, it is make up a word day. Bard FTW!

First things First (1)

BigBuckHunter (722855) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991945)

I find that the first, and most important, thing to do in any catastrophe is "Assign Blame".

Cause you never know exactly how bad it's gonna get.

BBH

Lack of Restraint (1)

buckhead_buddy (186384) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992023)

Someone used their cell phone while the pilot had the fasten seatbelt sign turned on.

Here we go again... (5, Informative)

LanceUppercut (766964) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992137)

Well, well, well... Here we go again. Jim Oberg. That same Jim Oberg who was almost blowing his gasket a couple of weeks ago when that journalist was asking him questions about alcohol abuse by astronauts (you all remember the story, I'm sure). It was all preposterous nonsense not backed up by any evidence, he said, berely keeping his cool. And what do we see now? He is happily making up stories about Russians accusing US of the computer falures - something that never happened in reality. The power problems caused by some new US installations were indeed considered as intermediate working brainstormed versions of what could have happened. But nobody ever did any fingerpointing or made any acussations before the situation was sufficiently researched and the root cause determined. Of course, Jim Oberg could not refreain from distorting the truth "just a little". Tsk, tsk, tsk... Note, how he refers to the hypothesis as both "blatant finger pointing" and just "guesses" within single paragraph - just to keep his article a little fuzzy, so that he can flip-flop to either when the situation calls for it. Nothing surprising here, though...

The computers are not Russian, but European (5, Informative)

hazard (2541) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992145)

The article is misleading. The computers are not actually of Russian make, they were supplied to Russians by Europeans (EADS). See here [softpedia.com] .

Superior Terrestial Connector Technology! (3, Informative)

Zymergy (803632) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992195)

I had an 89' Nissan Pathfinder and it had factory wiring harness connectors to ALL of the various electrical connections which were water-tight with one or more ribbed red silicone gaskets.
The connectors were not always easy to disconnect, however, after 177,000 miles and 11 years of original ownership, I never found any corrosion inside any one of them I ever disconnected for service.
Additionally, the male/female electrical contacts within the sealed connectors appeared to be made from a tinned Copper and/or Brass metal. This is important to note, as Brass, and to a much larger extent, Copper, have ELECTRICALLY CONDUCTIVE oxide states (as surface corrosion by moisture and/or other aqueous solvents).
In other words, you corrode a Copper or Brass metal electrical connector, and it will still conduct electricity just fine. It may degrade certain frequencies of network/data signaling and alter the dB loss and impedance, but it will still conduct.
This is another reason why the top-post Nissan main battery terminal connectors for this vehicle were made from a Copper/Brass strap instead of a traditional Lead connector.
Lead oxide powders (as found on many old standard Lead top-post automotive battery terminals) are not effective electrical conductors (as anyone who has wiggled/cleaned a corroded connection to allow their car to start could attest).
Why did the design/production Engineers for the ISS not utilize Gold Plated Watertight industry standard (ISO, etc) wiring interconnects? (Even cheap RJ-45 connectors have gold-plated pins)
-That is the REAL Question.
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