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Thursday, 16 October 2008 21:12

NASA engineers re-boot Hubble with 486 computer

For you people still using 486 personal computers, be assured that NASA still uses them, too. They just got the Hubble Space Telescope up and running again by switching to a backup 486 computer that has been idle since 1990. Yes, even old technology is good!

For those of you unfamiliar with the 486 PC, it was a generation of personal computers driven by the Intel 486 chip (also known as the i486, 80486, and usually just the 486). It was introduced in 1989 with over one million transistors, the first chip to have so many.

It replaced the 386 computer (Intel 80386). The next generation of computers was the Pentiums, and the x86 designation was dropped.

According to the “Hubble Status Report #1 ” from NASA (on Wednesday, October 15, 2008), “The Hubble Space Telescope team completed switching the required hardware modules to their B-sides about 9:30 a.m. this morning [Wednesday] and received telemetry [transmission of data] that verified they had good data. Everything at this point looks good.”

Good old 486!

NASA engineers reloaded data into the backup 486 computer (on the Hubble) around 12:00 noon on Wednesday and then performed a data dump (returned a copy of stored data back to Earth) to verify that all of the systems were working properly.

Then, NASA states, “At 1:10 p.m. this afternoon the team brought Hubble out of safe mode and placed the 486 computer back in control. Late this afternoon, Gyro #4 (which was needed for safe mode) will be turned off.” (Gyro #4 is one of Hubble's gyroscopes--devices that keep Hubble in a steady position in its orbit about Earth.)

Yes, 486 rules!

Later on Wednesday, the process continued as the Side B of the Science Instrument Command & Data Handling (SIC&DH) computer was reconfigured and further processes were performed later to verify it was functioning correctly. More information on the Hubble procedure of switching from Side A to Side B is found at "Hubble scientists to do the Hubble Flip."

More information on the status of Hubble and its 486 continues on page two.

The NASA report continued, ”Around 6 p.m. this evening [Wednesday] the spacecraft will begin executing a pre-science command load, which involves sending normal commands to control the spacecraft and resume communications satellite tracking with the HST high gain antennas.”

And, HST Operations Deputy Project Manager Keith Kalinowski at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center stated, “We won’t know if we’ve been completely successful until around midnight Wednesday when we demonstrate that the SIC&DH Side B is talking to the instruments and able to pass data to the ground.”

It is now Thursday morning and other status reports have yet to come out of NASA with respect to this story on the fate of Hubble. We’ll continue to wait and see if this old and dusty 486 computer is still hitting on all of its cylinders.

Time's a tickin'.

A few minutes has gone by and “Hubble Status Report #2” has now been released.

It states, “During the night of Oct. 15, Space Telescope Operations Control Center engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center turned on and checked out Side ‘B’ of Hubble’s Science Instrument Control and Data Handling (SIC&DH) system.”

Here is the good news: “Subsequently, the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) and Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) instruments were retrieved from safe mode to establish that each has a working interface to the Side B SIC&DH. The instruments were then commanded back into safe mode, and will remain in that state until the SI C&DH begins issuing commands to them later today.”

Page three continues...

NASA reports that around 12:00 noon on Thursday, October 15, 2008, commands to “recover Hubble’s science instruments from their safe modes will begin and internal exposures and calibrations of the telescope’s science instruments will occur before midnight Thursday.”

And, “The Scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore should complete their review of the internal exposures by noon on Friday, October 17."

"This procedure involves collecting and comparing baseline exposures previously supported by Side A of the SI C&DH to new exposures supported by Side B."

Further, "This review will be one last check of the “transparency” (non-impact) of switching to the redundant spacecraft electronics the Hubble team activated on Wednesday.”

NASA states that science observations from Hubble’s WFPC2 camera, ACS’ Solar Blind Channel camera, and the Fine Guidance Sensors are expected to start again early on the morning of Friday, October 17, 2008.

So, it looks like all is back to normal on the Hubble Space Telescope compliments of an old but trusty 486 computer.

Late 1980s and early 1990s technology can still do the trick! I think I might dust off my old Atari 2600 video gaming system and see if I can convert it to a command center for a future robotic Pac-Man Mars mission.



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