A Customer Service Call from Mir
When the space station Mir's troubles were at their worst, you may have
asked yourself, "Why don't they just call the Mir customer service
hotline?" For one minor problem in the aftermath of the space collision,
NASA did indeed call customer service, and they got fast results.
The Mir space station consists of several modules flown into space
individually and connected together in orbit. One of these modules,
Spektr, contained instruments for observing Earth and served as living
quarters for American astronauts. In June 1997 its occupant was Dr.
Michael Foale, who shared Mir with Russian cosmonauts Vasily Tsibliyev
and Alexander Lazutkin. On June 25 the Spektr module was damaged when it
collided with an unmanned supply vessel during testing of a new automated
guidance system. The station depressurized and lost power, and the Spektr
module was hurriedly sealed off--along with most of Foale's personal
belongings--to prevent depressurization of the rest of Mir.
Loaded onto Foale's now-inaccessible computer was an off-the-shelf
technical computing software system called Mathematica, which Foale
used for many years to perform calculations involving higher math.
Thinking that Mathematica could shed some light on some of the
necessary to set Mir back in order, he asked that a backup of his hard
drive be retrieved from his home and sent up to Mir on the next supply
rocket. Installation onto the new computer, however, required a new
password--and that meant a quick phone call to Wolfram Research, Inc.,
makers of Mathematica. The NASA ground crew contacted Allison Fry,
Customer Service representative at Wolfram Research, and
soon up and running again in orbit.
Back on Earth, Foale recently contacted Wolfram Research for a
replacement CD for the one lost in Spektr, which this time was delivered
to him without the use of a supply rocket. As for the rest of Mir's
difficulties, perhaps the current crew wishes that more solutions were
only a phone call away.