You'd think that a human-built spaceship capable of blasting into orbit, staying into orbit, docking with a space station then coming home and landing in one piece (well, sometimes) would also be capable of telling the time properly.
But no, apparently not. NASA wants to make sure they're not late launching Discovery next December because it can't handle flying over New Year.
The Shuttle was never expected to be in orbit as one year gives way to another, so the computers aren't set up to switch to a new "Day One". To the Shuttle, January 1 is just day 366.
"The shuttle computers were never envisioned to fly through a year-end changeover," space shuttle program manager Wayne Hale explained.
In itself, this wouldn't be a problem, but the computers on the ground work differently, and losing synch with mission control would probably be a Bad Thing.
The onboard computer could be reset, but this would mean that the Shuttle would be flying blind, without navigation updates or vehicle control. Although simulations of the date switch have gone well, understandably, NASA would prefer to avoid this scenario in the real world.
If the twelve-day mission doesn't get started before 18th December, there's a good chance it will be pushed back to January. To be honest this seems absolutely ridiculous. Who builds a computer that doesn't know the full date? Don't tell me the Shuttle Discovery is running Windows?
Back in September, I wondered if NASA was using stolen alien technology in the Shuttles because they have no idea how the batteries work. Not wanting to be overly insensitive, is it any wonder that the occasional orbiter falls from the sky in pieces?
Again not wanting to be insensitive, I couldn't help but wonder if the author of the image caption on that CNN article [previous hyperlink] really meant the following as it sounds:
Investigators bow their heads in prayer before moving human remains found in a debris field in Hemphill, Texas.