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Computer glitch delays test of space station arm

The space station's new arm parked off the side of the station on Wednesday  

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas -- A computer server aboard the International Space Station Alpha went down Wednesday, disrupting communications and forcing NASA to postpone for at least one day a planned "handshake" between the station's new robot arm and its space shuttle counterpart.

It is the first time such a communications breakdown has happened aboard the station, and NASA said the cause was not immediately known.

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"They're examining that right now," said NASA spokeswoman Marie Auld.

The launch of space tourist Dennis Tito aboard a Russian Soyuz craft on Saturday will have to be delayed if the computer problem is not corrected, NASA spokesman Doug Peterson told Reuters. Tito of California reportedly paid the Russians an estimated $20-million for a trip to the space station.

The problematic server feeds a main computer and two laptops aboard the station, which in turn are used to send commands to the robot arm.

The station's robot arm was to hand over its 3,000-pound packing crate to the shuttle Endeavour's robot arm. That procedure has now been delayed until at least Thursday, Auld said.

The problem disrupted all communication from the command computers on the station, she said, but all of its onboard systems were running properly and Mission Control remained in contact with the crew through the Endeavor, which is docked at the station.

"The crew is fine," Auld said.

The station arm will lift its pallet, the curved white object shown here, and hand it to the shuttle's arm  

The computers were running, but were unable to access data in their memory banks because of the downed server.

A spokesman at Johnson Space Center said engineers were trying to see whether some new information loaded in the past day or so might have triggered the communication breakdown.

If the problem persists, NASA could extend the mission by a day or two. Endeavour is currently schedule to land at Kennedy Space Center at 10 a.m. EDT on Monday.

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International space station Alpha

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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