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NASA briefly loses contact with space station after power outage at mission control

<i>Mark Felix/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>People walk through the White Flight Control Room at the Johnson Space Center's Mission Control Center in Houston
Mark Felix/AFP/Getty Images
People walk through the White Flight Control Room at the Johnson Space Center's Mission Control Center in Houston

By Jackie Wattles, CNN

(CNN) — A brief power outage at NASA’s mission control center in Houston caused a voice communications blackout with the International Space Station and forced the space agency to rely on backup systems for the first time.

The outage occurred Tuesday morning and lasted about 90 minutes, according to ISS Program Manager Joel Montalbano. At no time were the astronauts aboard the ISS in any danger, according to Montalbano.

“It wasn’t an issue on board. It was purely a ground problem,” he said, adding that NASA was able to communicate with the crew via Russian systems within 20 minutes after the outage began.

The outage impacted only the first floor of the mission control building, Montalbano said. It did not affect flight controllers, or the rotating crew of NASA employees who constantly monitor the ISS from consoles in the main mission control room .

But the outage did affect the hardware that provides key communications, including voice contact and telemetry, or data about the space station’s pressure levels, power and position.

The issue occurred as the mission control center was undergoing some preplanned upgrades to its power systems. The outage was triggered by some “reconfiguration” that took place as part of that process, Montalbano said.

“We knew this (the upgrade work) was going on,” Montalbano said. “In preparation for that we have the backup command and control system that we would use if we have to close the center for a weather emergency.”

It took about an hour and a half to transition to using that backup system, which is designed for use during hurricane season or in the event of a weather outage, Montalbano said.

He noted the outage marked the first time that NASA has activated the backup control hardware at Johnson Space Center’s Building 30, which is home to mission control. Though, he noted that temporary losses in communications have occurred before, due to systems upgrades on the ground or missed contact with one of the satellites NASA uses to maintain two-way communications between the ISS and mission control.

Montalbano added that NASA would work to “better understand what happened and then take some lessons learned.”

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