Nasa has moved to calm fears that a computer hacker put the lives of space shuttle astronauts at risk during an attack on the space agency's communication systems.
The allegations, made in a BBC documentary last night, claimed that while the shuttle docked with the Russian space station Mir during a 1997 mission, the activities of a hacker interfered with the computer systems that monitor the heartbeat, pulse and medical condition of astronauts aboard the spacecraft.
In a statement issued late last night, Nasa said the reports were wrong and that its inspector general's office found that during the September 1997 STS-86 mission, only the transmission of "routine" medical information was "slightly" delayed due to a hacker's attack.
"At no time was communication between Nasa and the astronauts compromised," the statement said. "There has never been an interruption of communication service with the Shuttle due to hacker attacks. The command and control communications links between Mission Control and a Space Shuttle in orbit are extremely well insulated."
However, Roberta Gross, inspector general at Nasa, told the BBC's Panorama programme: "We had an activity at a Nasa centre where a hacker was overloading our systems, and overloaded it to such an extent that it interfered with communications between the Nasa Centre, some medical communications and the astronaut aboard the shuttle."
In a BBC statement issued this afternoon, the corporation said that at no point during the Cyber Wars documentary was it stated that the "lives" of Nasa astronauts were put at risk or that their "lives were endangered".
"We made it clear in the programme that the transmission was successfully completed," said Gross. "Nasa has a lot of fail-safes and it makes sure there's not just one way of communicating, so the transmission ultimately went through and there were other means of communication, but it showed the potential [which] hackers have for really doing serious damage to Nasa's mission and astronaut safety."
Nasa said the incident is still under investigation by its inspector general's office.
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