This Week’s Research Improving Health as Dragon Preps for Departure

SpaceX Dragon
Morning breaks for astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station. SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft sits on the left side of the frame, attached to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module.

The International Space Station crew is wrapping up the week after working on a series of ongoing life science and robotics studies. The SpaceX Dragon is also nearing the end of its stay and preparing for a return to Earth.

The astronauts have been helping scientists gather data on what happens to the human body when exposed to microgravity to help NASA plan longer missions farther out into space. Observations from the human research studies help doctors design exercise techniques, diets and other countermeasures to keep astronauts healthy.

British astronaut Tim Peake collected tap water and body samples for the Energy experiment today. That study is aiding doctors’ efforts to determine an astronaut’s energy requirements to improve crew health and performance. He also tested the ability of controlling a rover on Earth, or any planetary surface, from a computer on a spacecraft. The METERON experiment may benefit future missions to Mars or hazardous tasks on Earth.

Experiment samples, gear and other hardware is being packed inside the Dragon space freighter attached to the Harmony module. Dragon will be released from Harmony May 11 ending a month-long stay. After its departure it will splashdown in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later where the spacecraft and its cargo will be retrieved by SpaceX engineers.

Robotics and Human Research as Dragon Packed for Departure

A solar array crosses this image of an aurora tweeted by astronaut Tim Kopra. Credit: @Astro_Tim

The crew trained for an experiment that is exploring new technologies to support missions farther out into space. Life science also continued this week as the astronauts researched how the lack of gravity affects their bodies

Scientists are studying the possibility of a space internet and remotely controlling rovers on a planetary surface from a spacecraft. British astronaut Tim Peake trained on the rover control software for the METERON experiment that may also enable closer human and robotic connections in hazardous conditions.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin joined each other for more work on the Fluid Shifts study. That experiment observes how living in space impacts a crew member’s cells, blood vessels, brain pressure and vision.

Commander Tim Kopra is stowing gear inside the SpaceX Dragon for retrieval back on Earth. The Dragon is due to be released from the Harmony module May 11 for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later.

Filipino Satellite Deployed from Japanese Lab

Filipino Satellite and Japanese Lab
The Filipino DIWATA-1 satellite is deployed (left) from the Japanese Kibo lab module (right). Credit: NASA TV

A microsatellite designed in the Philippines was deployed outside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module this morning for climate research. Inside the International Space Station, the crew continued more human research to improve the health of astronauts in space and citizens on Earth.

DIWATA-1, Filipino for “fairy”, is orbiting Earth after being released today from a satellite deployer mechanism outside the Kibo module’s airlock. The 50-kilogram-class microsatellite will observe the Earth’s climate to improve weather forecasting and natural disaster response.

The Expedition 47 crew is continuing its research today into how the lack of gravity affects the fluid shifts and pressure inside a crew member’s head. Scientists are also looking at how astronauts work with detailed, interactive tasks for the Fine Motor Skills study using a touchscreen tablet.

The space station regularly experiences stresses on its structure when spaceships dock, during spacewalks and crew exercise sessions. Researchers will look at some of the vibration data sent down by the crew today for the long-running Identification study.

Bone and Muscle Research, Future Spacecraft Preps Today

Astronauts Jeff Williams and Tim Peake
Astronauts Jeff Williams and Tim Peake talk to students in Dallas, Texas for an educational event. Credit: NASA TV

The six Expedition 47 crew members were back at work Tuesday exploring life science and other fields to advance humanity on and off Earth. The International Space Station residents also checked out new spacecraft communications gear.

Scientists are researching how the lack of gravity weakens bones and muscles. They are testing an antibody used on Earth that prevents this weakening in mice. The facility that houses the mice on the station for this study was inspected today then restocked with food.

Hardware was set up today that will measure fluid pressure in an astronaut’s head for the Fluid Shifts experiment. That study observes how living in space impacts cells and blood vessels and researches the possibility that it may affect vision.

The crew continues to document its living conditions on the space station to help engineers design future spacecraft with habitable accommodations. New radios that were installed in March are also being tested that will communicate with future spacecraft to visit the station.

Astronaut Completes London Marathon, Station Trio Relaxes

Astronaut Tim Peake
Astronaut Tim Peake, from the European Space Agency, checks science hardware inside the Columbus lab module.

Three Expedition 47 crew members are relaxing today after several weeks of supporting the arrival and departure of numerous cargo vehicles. The other three Russian crew members continued their science and maintenance duties.

British astronaut Tim Peake strapped himself into the Tranquility module’s treadmill Sunday and ran the 26.2 mile London Marathon. The last time an astronaut ran a marathon in space was April 16, 2007, when Expedition 14 Flight Engineer Suni Williams completed the Boston Marathon on a treadmill in the Zvezda service module.

Some of the science taking place onboard the orbital laboratory looked at an astronaut’s energy requirements necessary to sustain a long-term mission beyond low-Earth orbit. The crew also looked at cardiovascular performance, the forces the space station experiences during dynamic mission events and observed the health of forests on Earth.

Research Promotes Astronaut Health for Long-Term Missions

Expedition 47 Flight Engineer Jeff Williams
Expedition 47 flight engineer Jeff Williams works on the WetLab-2 gene research hardware.

The International Space Station residents were back at work today continuing this week’s slate of life science experiments. The ongoing biomedical space research helps scientists understand how living in space long term affects astronauts. Results and observations have the potential to benefit future crews and citizens on Earth.

The new Genes in Space student experiment launched aboard the new SpaceX Dragon cargo craft began operations this week. The research is studying the link between DNA alterations and weakened immune systems caused by the lack of gravity.

The crew began WetLab-2 validation operations this week. WetLab-2 is a research platform for conducting real-time quantitative gene expression analysis aboard the space station. It will allow scientists and crew members to accelerate the pace of research aboard the orbiting laboratory while saving time and cost.

Exercise is necessary to counter the muscle and bone loss associated with long-term space missions. Doctors are exploring high intensity, low volume space exercise techniques to prevent this loss as NASA plans human journeys beyond low-Earth orbit. The Sprint study, with operations set to begin this weekend, allows doctors to observe an astronaut’s skeletomuscular and cardiovascular system during an exercise session.

Hardware and sensors are being attached to crew members this week and will give scientists insights into an astronaut’s energy usage and metabolic rate. The 10-day experiment will provide an assessment of the energy requirements necessary to support an astronaut on a mission farther out into space.

Crew Tests How Cells, Bones and Muscles Respond to Lack of Gravity

Crew Members Tim Kopra and Alexey Ovchinin
Expedition 47 crew members Tim Peake and Alexey Ovchinin are the 221st and 222nd individuals to visit the International Space Station.

The Expedition 47 crew is researching how plants sense gravity today and exploring how fluids shift in an astronaut’s body. The orbital residents are also learning how living in space affects the structure of bones and muscles.

The crew set up botany gear and collected samples for the Plant Gravity Sensing-3 experiment. The study seeks to determine if plants sense gravity and if the concentration of calcium in their cells change.

Fluids in an astronaut’s cells and blood vessels respond to the lack of gravity and can impact brain pressure and potentially affect vision. Scientists on the ground are researching this phenomenon by analyzing blood, saliva and urine samples collected from astronauts while on orbit.

Lack of gravity also weakens bones and muscles, and scientists are testing an antibody that has been effective on Earth to prevent that weakening. Doctors are observing those muscular and skeletal changes in mice to learn how to prevent muscle and bone atrophy in astronauts.

Crew Starts Work on Student-Designed Gene Experiment

Astronaut Tim Kopra
Astronaut Tim Kopra sets up the station’s Microgravity Science Glovebox for experiment work. The glovebox is one of the major dedicated science facilities inside the Destiny laboratory module.

Human research and life science studies took precedence on the orbital laboratory today. The Expedition 47 crew also checked out a spacesuit and transferred cargo from a pair of resupply ships.

The Genes in Space study, a student-designed experiment, began on the station this morning. It is studying the linkage between DNA alterations and weakened immune systems caused by the lack of gravity. NASA encourages students to become future engineers and scientists to benefit Earth and promote exploration. As a result, students periodically design and interact with advanced research on the International Space Station.

The crew is also recording its observations of their living area on the space station for the Habitability study. The crew’s inputs may help engineers design future spacecraft with better accommodations for astronauts on long-term space missions.

The station’s inventory is being updated as the crew transfers gear back and forth from the Progress 63 and the SpaceX Dragon resupply ships. A U.S. spacesuit is also being readied for return to Earth on the Dragon when it departs the station and splashes down in the Pacific Ocean May 11.

New Gear Readied for Advanced Space Science

BEAM Installation
Astronaut Tim Kopra tweeted this image of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module being transferred by the Canadarm2 robotic arm from the Space Dragon cargo craft to the Tranquility module for installation. Credit: @Astro_Tim

The International Space Station crew is getting the orbital laboratory ready this week for a wide variety of advanced space science. The station also received a new module that will be expanded in late May for two years of habitability tests.

The Expedition 47 crew members are starting the work week setting up hardware for a pair of experiments exploring space physics and human research. A specialized microscope was configured for a study researching how particles behave at nanoscales potentially improving drug delivery and filtration technologies. After hardware checkouts and tests, the crew will also study the linkage between DNA alterations and weakened immune systems caused by long-term space missions.

The Electromagnetic Levitator, a facility that studies materials processing, will have a cable replaced and have its limit parameters reprogrammed. The Japanese Kibo laboratory module is being outfitted with new gear to extend its external research capability. The robotic installation work will enable payloads exposed to the vacuum of space to be moved and accessed with greater ease.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, BEAM, was successfully installed Saturday morning. Ground controllers operated the Canadarm2 robotic arm and extracted BEAM from the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship and installed it to the Tranquility module.

BEAM Successfully Installed to the International Space Station

Following extraction from Dragon, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was installed to the International Space Station at 5:36 a.m. EDT. At the time of installation, the space station was flying over the Southern Pacific Ocean. It will remain attached to station for two-year test period.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, is attached to the International Space Station early on April 16, 2016.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, is attached to the International Space Station early on April 16, 2016.

NASA is investigating concepts for habitats that can keep astronauts healthy during space exploration. Expandable habitats are one such concept under consideration – they require less payload volume on the rocket than traditional rigid structures, and expand after being deployed in space to provide additional room for astronauts to live and work inside. BEAM will be the first test of such a module attached to the space station. It will allow investigators to gauge how well it performs overall, and how it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space.

In late May, BEAM will be filled with air and expanded to its full size. Astronauts will enter BEAM on an occasional basis to conduct tests to validate the module’s overall performance and the capability of expandable habitats. After the testing period is completed, BEAM will be released from the space station to eventually burn up harmlessly in the Earth’s atmosphere.