Weather Delays U.S. Cargo Mission; Crew Back to Work After Leak Test

The three-member Expedition 63 crew aboard the International Space Station
The Expedition 63 crew with (from left) Commander Chris Cassidy and Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

A U.S. cargo mission will wait a couple of extra days for weather to clear before launching to resupply the International Space Station this week. Meanwhile, the Expedition 63 crew has resumed standard operations following a leak test over the weekend.

Scattered thunderstorms and rain are predicted at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia where Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus resupply ship was originally targeted for liftoff Tuesday night. Mission managers rescheduled Cygnus’ launch for Thursday at 9:38 p.m. EDT setting its arrival and robotic capture at the station for Sunday at 5:20 a.m.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonaut Ivan Vagner practiced their robotics skills on a computer today to get ready to capture Cygnus with the Canadarm2 robotic arm on Sunday morning. Cassidy will lead the capture activities while Vagner monitors the U.S. spacecraft’s approach and rendezvous.

NASA TV will broadcast live the launch and capture activities of the Cygnus space freighter. It will arrive at the station packed with nearly 8,000 pounds supplies and gear including an advanced space toilet and brand-new science experiments.

Veteran cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin once again opened up the Combustion Integrated Rack and replaced fuel bottles to support fuel and flames studies inside the research device. He then spent the rest of the day servicing laptop computers and life support systems.

The three-member crew exited their isolation in the Russian segment on Monday morning after a weekend of leak tests and resumed normal operations. Ground teams will analyze the leak test data in their ongoing work to determine the source of the increased leak rate at the station.

More Leak Checks as Crew Spends Weekend in Russian Segment

The Expedition 63 crew will spend the weekend in the Russian segment’s Zvezda service module during a cabin air leak test.
The Expedition 63 crew will stay in the Russian segment’s Zvezda service module during a cabin air leak test this weekend.

As part of ongoing work to isolate the source of a slight increase above the standard cabin air leak rate, the Expedition 63 crew will once again spend the weekend inside the station’s Russian segment. All the space station hatches will be closed this weekend so mission controllers can again monitor the air pressure in each module with the goal of localizing the source of the increased rate. The test presents no safety concern for the crew. Commander Chris Cassidy and his crewmates Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin will stay in the Zvezda service module from Friday night into Monday morning.

The crew will spend Friday gathering items for the weekend isolation before closing hatches throughout the station at the conclusion of their crew work day.

Station Gearing Up for October Cargo and Crew Missions

Expedition 64 crew members, the next crew to launch to the station, (from left) Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, Sergey Ryzhikov and Kate Rubins are pictured during Soyuz qualification exams.
Expedition 64 crew members (from left) Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, Sergey Ryzhikov and Kate Rubins are pictured during Soyuz qualification exams are the next crew to launch to the station.

October is shaping up to be a busy traffic period as the International Space Station gears up for a space delivery, a crew exchange and a commercial crew mission. Meanwhile, the Expedition 63 crew focused on science, eye exams and leak inspections today.

The next U.S. cargo mission to resupply the station is due to launch on Tuesday at 10:27 p.m. EDT from Virginia.  The Cygnus space freighter from Northrop Grumman will arrive on Saturday, Oct. 3, packed with nearly 8,000 pounds supplies and gear including an advanced space toilet and brand-new science experiments. Cygnus’ preflight events, launch, rendezvous and robotic capture will be broadcast live on NASA TV.

Three new Expedition 64 crew members will then set their sights on their Oct. 14 launch aboard the Soyuz MS-17 crew ship to the orbiting lab. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will ride alongside cosmonauts Sergei Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov as they prepare for a 185-day mission in space.

One week later, the new station crew will say goodbye to the Expedition 63 trio that has been living in space since April. Commander Chris Cassidy with Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner will parachute to Earth inside the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft on Oct. 21 completing a 195-day station research mission.

SpaceX is targeting Oct. 23 for the launch of four astronauts on its first operational Crew Dragon mission. NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins will command the commercial crew vehicle piloted by first-time space flyer Victor Glover. They will be supported by Mission Specialists and veteran astronauts Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi for the six-month stay at the orbital lab. The quartet will join the Expedition 64 crew one day after launch.

Back on the space station today, Cassidy looked at Ivanishin’s retinas using non-invasive light wave technology, or optical coherence tomography. The commander then prepared Astrobee robotic assistants for an upcoming student competition before servicing an incubator and a science freezer. Ivanishin and Vagner continued checking power and life support systems in the station’s Russian segment.

As part of ongoing work to isolate the source of a slight increase above the standard cabin air leak rate, the Expedition 63 crew used specialized detectors to inspect several windows, seals and valves across the space station. Results from their inspections will be analyzed on the ground.

Crew Readies for New Space Toilet and Continues Eye Exams

NASA astronaut and Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy poses for a portrait in front of the Microgravity Science Glovebox.
NASA astronaut and Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy poses for a portrait in front of the Microgravity Science Glovebox.

The International Space Station is gearing up for an advanced bathroom set to arrive on a U.S. resupply ship early next month. Meanwhile, the Expedition 63 crew continued this week’s eye checks and more space research and life support maintenance.

The orbital lab will get a new space toilet scheduled to be delivered inside Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo craft on Oct. 3. The upgraded restroom facility will be smaller, more comfortable and support a larger crew as NASA’s Commercial Crew Program sends more astronauts to the station.

Station crewmates Chris Cassidy and Ivan Vagner will be at the robotics workstation commanding the Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture Cygnus next Saturday. The duo began reviewing Cygnus’ mission profile today and are getting up to speed with the tasks necessary to support the upcoming space delivery.

The two crewmates then joined their colleague cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin for regularly scheduled eye checks in the afternoon. Wednesday’s tests looked at the retina using non-invasive light wave technology, or optical coherence tomography. The weeklong exams also consist of reading vision charts with one eye covered, as well as self-administered ultrasound eye scans with real-time support from ground doctors.

Cassidy’s science work today saw him activate the Astrobee robotic helpers and check out hardware for a perception and orientation in space study. The NASA astronaut then collected samples of the station’s U.S. segment drinking water for microbial analysis.

Working from the Russian side of the station, Ivanishin spent the morning replacing smoke detectors in the Zarya module. Vagner also gathered drinking water samples for later analysis both on the orbiting lab and back on Earth.

Crew Takes on Eye Doc and Plumber Roles as Station Avoids Debris

Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy gives a thumbs up during set up of space station exercise equipment.
Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy gives a thumbs up during set up of space station exercise equipment.

It was a busy day aboard the International Space Station as the Expedition 63 crew members traded roles as an eye doctor, orbital plumber and scientist. The station also boosted its orbit out of the way of an unknown piece of space debris today.

Once again, the U.S. commander and the two Russian flight engineers joined each other Tuesday afternoon for a series of eye checks planned for this week. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy took charge as the Crew Medical Officer and scanned the eyes of cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner using an ultrasound device. The scans look at the optic nerve, cornea and lens. The eye exams will continue through Thursday.

Cassidy is also readying the space station’s Tranquility module for a new toilet due to be delivered Oct. 3 on a Cygnus space freighter. The high-flying plumber installed a cable that will power the advanced toilet system, also called the Universal Waste Management System (UWMS). The new bathroom will support more personnel at the station and inform plumbing technologies for future deep space exploration missions.

The Combustion Integrated Rack’s fuel bottles were replaced today to support ongoing research into flames and fuels. Ivanishin serviced the science rack that provides insights helping scientists and engineers improve fire safety and fuel performance for both space and Earth systems.

Vagner set up Russian radiation detectors this morning and handed them off to Cassidy so he could deploy them in the U.S. segment’s seven-windowed cupola. The first-time cosmonaut also worked on plumbing tasks in the Russian side of the station transferring urine and collecting water samples from life support systems for analysis.

Using the ISS Progress 75 thrusters and with NASA and Russian flight controllers working in tandem, the International Space Station conducted a 150-second reboost Tuesday afternoon to avoid a possible conjunction with an unknown piece of space debris.

Station Boosts Orbit to Avoid Space Debris

The International Space Station
The International Space Station is pictured orbiting Earth in October of 2018.

Using the ISS Progress 75 thrusters and with NASA and Russian flight controllers working in tandem, the International Space Station conducted a 150-second reboost Tuesday afternoon at 5:19 p.m. EDT to avoid a possible conjunction with an unknown piece of space debris. Because of the late notification of the possible conjunction, the three Expedition 63 crew members were directed to move to the Russian segment of the station to be closer to their Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft as part of the safe haven procedure out of an abundance of caution. At no time was the crew in any danger.

The maneuver raised the station’s orbit out of the predicted path of the debris, which was estimated to come within 1.39 kilometers of the station with a time of closest approach of 6:21 p.m. EDT.

Once the avoidance maneuver was completed, the crew reopened hatches between the U.S. and Russian segments and resumed their regular activities.

Station Crew Preps for Space Debris Avoidance Maneuver

The International Space Station
The International Space Station is pictured orbiting Earth in October of 2018.

Flight controllers in Mission Control Houston, with assistance from U.S. Space Command, are tracking an unknown piece of space debris expected to pass within several kilometers of the International Space Station. An avoidance maneuver is scheduled to take place using the Russian Progress resupply spacecraft currently docked to the aft end of the Zvezda service module at 4:19 p.m. CT. Out of an abundance of caution, the Expedition 63 crew will relocate to their Soyuz spacecraft until the debris has passed by the station. The time of closest approach is 5:21 p.m. CT.

Eye Checks and Pilot Study Kickoff Work Week

This nighttime photograph from the station looks north across Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
This nighttime photograph from the station looks north across Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Eye checks took place aboard the International Space Station today to help flight surgeons understand how living in space affects vision. The Expedition 63 crew also explored future space-piloting techniques and worked on atmospheric and power systems.

All three space lab residents participated in vision tests today measuring visual acuity, visual field and contrast sensitivity. Just like visiting an eye doctor on Earth, the crew members read an eye chart at various distances and different contrasts. Doctors are exploring why some astronauts have reported vision impacts following the completion of their months-long station missions.

Commander Chris Cassidy also spent Monday working on a variety of life support and science hardware. The veteran NASA astronaut first set up a small, portable device that is testing the continuous analysis of the station’s atmosphere for elements such as nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, methane and water. The data is transmitted back to Earth every two seconds for review by ground specialists.

Cassidy then collected and stowed water samples from the plumbing system inside the Tranquility module for later analysis back on Earth. He finally relocated the TangoLab-2, a science facility that supports biology and chemistry studies in a more power efficient device with better cooling capabilities.

Future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond will require updated piloting skills necessary to operate spacecraft and robots in different gravity and planetary environments. Cosmonaut Ivan Vagner continued researching those skills aboard the station today to inform training techniques to successfully control a vehicle on a planetary surface.

Cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin spent his morning checking Russian battery temperatures and power connections with assistance from Vagner. The three-time station resident also synchronized cameras to station clocks and worked on computer hardware.

Robotics, Space Tech and Heart Research Wrap Up Work Week

Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy poses with two Astrobee robotic assistants during visual and navigation tests inside the Kibo laboratory module.
Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy poses with two Astrobee robotic assistants during visual and navigation tests inside the Kibo laboratory module.

A set of free-flying robotic helpers buzzed around the International Space Station today for visual tests. Meanwhile, the Expedition 63 trio conducted a variety of advanced space research and maintained the upkeep of the orbiting lab.

Astrobee is the name given to a trio of small cube-shaped, autonomous robots being tested on the station for its ability to help crews in space. Commander Chris Cassidy powered up the robotic assistants this morning and set them free inside Japan’s Kibo lab module. Ground engineers are testing Astrobee’s visual and navigation system and watching video streamed from station cameras and from the devices themselves.

Cassidy then spent the rest of the afternoon tearing down the Packed Bed Reactor Experiment that is exploring technology to support water recovery, planetary surface processing and oxygen production. The research hardware observes gas and liquid flows that could inform the optimal design of chemical and biological reactors benefitting Earth and space industries.

Cardiac research is also a space research priority as doctors learn to keep astronauts safe and healthy during long-term exploration missions. Cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin attached sensors to himself Friday morning to monitor the adaptation of his blood circulation system for the Russian Cardiovector study. He then moved on to a technology investigation that observes the magnetic and dynamic forces the space station experiences on orbit.

Flight Engineer Ivan Vagner continued the weeklong power connection and life support systems checks. Vagner also was back on photography duty shooting Earth landmarks to help scientists forecast natural and man-made catastrophes.

DNA Repairs, Self-Replicating Materials Highlight Thursday’s Research

(From left) Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA with Roscosmos Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner are pictured during various station activities.
(From left) Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA with Roscosmos Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner pictured during various station activities.

Thursday’s science schedule aboard the International Space Station focused primarily on DNA and physics research including ongoing Earth photography sessions. The Expedition 63 trio also maintained life support gear and packed a Russian cargo ship.

The space environment affects a variety of biological and physical phenomena adapted and designed for Earth’s gravity and atmosphere. Organisms from microbes to humans experience a variety of critical changes in microgravity. Fuels, materials and a host of other physical conditions also go through a series of important modifications. NASA and its international partners study these effects to ensure the health of astronauts and safety of spacecraft planned for future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

DNA studies have been ongoing for years on the station to understand the long-term impacts of radiation and weightlessness on biology. This morning, Commander Chris Cassidy set up and checked out a DNA-monitoring device for the Genes In Space-6 experiment. The portable, handheld miniPCR-16 device, also used in Earth laboratories, provides insight into the repair mechanisms of DNA-damaged cells caused by space radiation.

Cassidy then turned his attention to unique materials that self-assemble and self-replicate with powerful implications for future space voyages. He set up a specialized microscope during the afternoon to observe particles suspended in fluids that self-organize into crystalline structures. The experiment takes place inside the Fluids Integrated Rack and explores the possibilities of 3D printing and additive manufacturing in microgravity.

The two station cosmonauts from Russia, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, swapped out and activated Earth observation hardware to continue monitoring and forecasting natural and man-made catastrophes. Ivanishin then serviced communications equipment before cleaning ventilation filters in the Zarya module. Vagner contributed to the ventilation system cleaning inside the Zvezda service module while also loading the Progress 75 resupply ship with trash and discarded gear.