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NASA extends shuttle mission to fix computers

The new space station robot arm is shown holding its packing crate on Wednesday, April 25  

Space tourist's launch likely delayed

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas (CNN) -- Continued computer problems aboard the International Space Station prompted NASA to extend its shuttle mission by two days -- a move that will likely delay the launch of a Russian Soyuz craft carrying U.S. billionaire space tourist Dennis Tito.

Space shuttle Endeavour is currently linked to space station Alpha and astronauts aboard Thursday had to put off critical robot-arm operations for a second straight day because of the computer glitches.

Four of five computers -- which are used for communications as well as command-and-control procedures -- were down. At least two working computers are needed for the new robot arm to hand off its 3,000-pound packing crate to the shuttle's arm.

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NASA spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said a mission management team met late in the day and decided to extend the current mission. Endeavour was scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center at 10 a.m. EDT Monday.

"Right now, our plan is to do an additional two days," Hawley said.

She said the extension is contingent on agreement by Russian space officials to delay their Saturday launch to the station. The trip to the orbiting outpost takes two days.

Hawley said Russian officials joined the mission management meeting by phone and were aware of the request for the extension. She said she believed the Russians would agree to delay the launch, because "you need to get these computers up and running."

"We're still trying to understand the root cause of the computer problems aboard," Hawley said.

She said it was not immediately known when the Soyuz would launch if it is delayed, but "I imagine we'll know that within the next 24 hours."

NASA doesn't want the Russian craft to dock with Alpha while Endeavour is still attached to the station because the Soyuz would come very close to the shuttle's tail, said shuttle flight director Phil Engelauf.

Tito, who is from California, reportedly paid the Russians about $20 million for a trip to the space station. NASA strongly objected to Tito's vacation in space, but dropped its complaint earlier this week. (More on this story.)

Hawley said one of three command-and-control computers was working on the space station, and that two computers being used as backup systems failed Thursday afternoon.

If a second computer doesn't come back on-line, space station flight director John Curry said, mission managers might consider another spacewalk to retrieve the crate and stow it in the shuttle.

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

But he said a more likely scenario is that the packing crate would be left hanging on the new arm until the next shuttle crew arrives in June.

"I think, in the short time, it would stay there until the next flight," Curry said.

While waiting for the space station computers to be repaired, the crew members of Alpha and Endeavour focused on unloading the Raffaello cargo module.

The carrier brought up 10,000 pounds of supplies -- from food and clothes to science experiments and racks to hold them. NASA said all of it has been unpacked.

The carrier is now being filled with trash from Alpha and used supplies. It will be returned to the shuttle's cargo bay and carried back to Earth.

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Report: NASA agrees to let tourist go into space
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Shuttle lifts off on mission to 'arm' Alpha
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Space stat

International space station Alpha

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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