Crew Hits Science After Dragon Returns to Earth

Astronauts Jeff Williams, Tim Kopra and Tim Peake
(From left) Astronauts Jeff Williams, Tim Kopra and Tim Peake spent a few moments today talking to reporters from the Weather Channel and WISC-TV in Madison, Wis. Credit: NASA TV

The Expedition 47 crew members are back at work today conducting research to benefit humans in space and on Earth. While microgravity science is underway on the International Space Station, a series of completed experiments are back on Earth after returning Wednesday inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams is configuring the Japanese Kibo lab module today for another deployment of Earth observation nanosatellites scheduled for early next week. Cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka joined British astronaut Tim Peake readying hardware for the Rodent Research study that will observe how muscles and bones are affected by weightlessness.

Commander Tim Kopra set up hardware today for the NeuroMapping study that is researching how living in space changes brain structure and function. Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin videotaped crew activities to document living on the station. Veteran cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko explored how natural and man-made phenomena affect the Earth’s atmosphere.

Dragon Returns to Earth in Pacific Splashdown

Dragon Splashdown
“Dragon recovery team on site after nominal splashdown in Pacific.” Credit: @SpaceX

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:51 p.m. EDT, about 261 miles southwest of Long Beach, California, marking the end of the company’s eighth contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station.

A boat will take the Dragon spacecraft to a port near Los Angeles, where some cargo will be removed and returned to NASA within 48 hours. Dragon will be prepared for a return journey to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing. Dragon is currently the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return a significant amount of cargo to Earth at this time.

Dragon is returning more than 3,700 pounds of NASA cargo and science samples from a variety of technological and biological studies about the International Space Station. The Microchannel Diffusion study, which investigated fluids at the nanoscale, or atomic level, holds promise for a wide range of technologies. Nanofluidic sensors could measure the makeup of space station air, or be used to deliver drugs to specific places in the body, for example. This type of research is possible only on the space station, where Earth’s gravity is not strong enough to interact with sample molecules, so they behave more like they would at the nanoscale. Knowledge gleaned from the investigation may have implications for drug delivery, particle filtration and future technological applications for space exploration.

Dragon Released Full of Science for Return to Earth

SpaceX Dragon Released
Cameras on the Canadarm2 show the SpaceX Dragon as it departs the vicinity of the space station just after its release. Credit: NASA TV

The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was released from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 9:19 a.m. EDT. The capsule will begin a series of departure burns and maneuvers to move beyond the 656-foot (200-meter) “keep out sphere” around the station and begin its return trip to Earth. The capsule is currently scheduled to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 2:55 p.m., about 261 miles southwest of Long Beach, California.

The spacecraft will return the final batch of human research samples from former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s historic one-year mission. These samples will be analyzed for studies such as Biochemical Profile, Cardio Ox, Fluid Shifts, Microbiome, Salivary Markers and the Twins Study. Additional samples taken on the ground as Kelly continues to support these studies will provide insights relevant for the Journey to Mars as NASA learns more about how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, isolation, radiation and the stress of long-duration spaceflight.

Watch NASA TV for Live Coverage of Dragon Release

SpaceX Dragon
The SpaceX Dragon cargo ship is seen arriving at the International Space Station April 10 before it is captured and installed to the Harmony module.

NASA Television will provide live coverage of the departure of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft from the International Space Station beginning at 9 a.m. EDT. Dragon was detached from the Earth-facing side of the station’s Harmony module earlier this morning. Robotics controllers will maneuver Dragon into place and Expedition 47 robotic arm operator Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) will execute the command for its 9:18 a.m. release.

Dragon arrived at the space station April 10 after launching April 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying almost 7,000 pounds of supplies and cargo on the company’s eighth commercial resupply mission to the station.

Release of the spacecraft by the station’s robotic arm will begin the Dragon’s return to Earth carrying more than 3,700 pounds of NASA cargo and science samples from human research, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations and education activities sponsored by NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, the nonprofit organization responsible for managing research aboard the U.S. national laboratory portion of the space station.

The capsule is currently scheduled to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean about 2:55 p.m., approximately 261 miles southwest of Long Beach, California.

Dragon Packed for Return to Earth Wednesday

The Expedition 47 Crew
The Expedition 47 crew poses for the 3 millionth image taken aboard the International Space Station.

The SpaceX Dragon cargo ship is ending its stay tomorrow at the International Space Station. The commercial cargo craft has been packed with about 3,700 pounds of cargo, spacewalk gear and biological samples for analysis on Earth.

Astronauts Tim Peake and Jeff Williams will be at the controls of the Canadarm2 robotic arm when the command to release Dragon is given at 9:18 a.m. EDT/1:18 p.m. UTC. Dragon will parachute to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later for recovery by SpaceX personnel. NASA TV will televise the release and departure activities starting at 9 a.m.

While the astronauts in the U.S. segment loaded Dragon, their Russian counterparts conducted research exploring diverse fields such as physics, biology and human research. They researched how space radiation affects materials that simulate human tissue for the long-running Matryeshka study. The crew also looked at how the space environment affects a crew member’s carotid artery and immune system.

Dragon Finalizing Departure Preps

SpaceX Dragon and the Kibo Module
The SpaceX Dragon is in the center right of the image attached to the Harmony module. The Japanese Kibo lab module, with its robotic arm and Exposed Facility, dominates the foreground. Credit: NASA TV

The SpaceX Dragon is being packed with critical science today and tomorrow before its release and splashdown on Wednesday. The crew is also reviewing Dragon departure procedures and training for its release from the grip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Dragon is currently attached to the Harmony module. After it is uninstalled early Wednesday with the 57.7 foot Canadarm2, the Dragon will be released at 9:18 a.m. EDT for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 2:55 p.m. NASA TV will broadcast the release and departure activities live, however the splashdown and recovery work will not be televised.

A pair of science freezers carrying experiment samples for analysis will be removed from the space station and returned to Earth inside Dragon. The commercial space freighter is returning a variety of science and gear for NASA.

The Russian cosmonauts are relaxing today in observance of Victory Day when Germany surrendered to the Soviet Union on May 9, 1945, ending World War II. The astronauts in the U.S. segment of the station continued science work, Dragon packing and robotics training for Wednesday’s release activities.

Robotic Arm Inspects Dragon Today amid Advanced Science

South Africa and Cape Town
The very bottom tip of Africa is imaged here as captured by the crew of the International Space Station on April 3rd, 2016. South Africa’s capitol Cape Town is located at the bottom left of this beautiful Earth picture captured on a sunny day.

Expedition 47 continues exploring how the lack of gravity affects astronauts and technology to help NASA plan longer missions farther out into space. Meanwhile, the Canadian Space Agency’s robotic arm, Canadarm2, has been maneuvered into position before it releases the SpaceX Dragon on Wednesday.

The crew set up the Fluid Shifts experiment again today utilizing a specialized body suit. The suit measures fluid movements between the upper and lower body. These fluid shifts have been known to increase head pressure potentially affecting a crew member’s eyesight.

Surface and air samples were taken today inside the International Space Station to study the diversity of microbes on the orbital lab. Hardware was also set up to download imagery taken for the Strata-1 study which is exploring how soil from other planetary bodies might behave. That research may help scientists design future spacesuits and space gear.

SpaceX is getting ready for the release and splashdown of its Dragon cargo craft on May 11. The 57.7-foot Canadarm2 robotic arm is inspecting Dragon’s thermal protection system and will grapple the spacecraft later today.

Fluid Pressure Research and Robotic Preps for Dragon Release

Bahama Island Chain
Oblique south-looking view of the main Bahama island chain as seen from the International Space Station.

The astronauts onboard the International Space Station are researching how microgravity affects fluid shifts in a crew member’s body. Ground controllers are also guiding Canada’s robotic arm into position before next week’s grapple and release of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

The Fluid Shifts experiment will wrap up operations this week with the crew wearing specialized body suits. The suits, known as Chibis Lower Body Negative Pressure devices, measure how fluids move from the lower body to the upper body while living in space. The research also observes fluid shifts in and out of cells and blood vessels which may impact head pressure potentially affecting vision.

Robotics controllers are remotely guiding the Canadarm2 to the Harmony module where it will grapple Dragon ahead of the spacecraft’s May 11 release and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Yesterday, the controllers surveyed the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer’s condition with the Canadarm2 and its cameras.

Cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka is on his second mission aboard the space station. His first mission during Expedition 25/26 lasted 159 days. Currently, he is Expedition 47 Flight Engineer and today is his 47th day aboard the orbital lab since his March arrival with fellow crew members Jeff Williams and Alexey Ovchinin.

Crew Looks at Plants and Mice for Health Insights

Astronaut Tim Peake
Astronaut Tim Peake from the European Space Agency talks to science and space journalists gathered at The Royal Institution in London, England. Credit: NASA TV

Today, the crew is observing how the lack of gravity affects plants and rodents. NASA is using the observations to improve the health of astronauts in space and humans on Earth.

The crew is stowing plant samples harvested for the Plant Gravity Sensing botany study to understand how roots sense gravity. The samples are being inserted into a science freezer for return to Earth aboard the SpaceX Dragon next week. Results may help astronauts grow their own food while living in space.

Rodents are also being observed in a habitat designed to house them in space. The Rodent Research-3 experiment is studying how space changes the musculoskeletal system and if an antibody that prevents muscle weakening on Earth works in space.

Dragon is still being loaded with gear and science for analysis on the ground. The private space freighter will be removed from the Harmony module and released from the Canadarm2 robotic arm for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean May 11.

May Starts With Botany, Genetic Study and Dragon Packing

Commander Tim Kopra
NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, commander of Expedition 47, floats inside the Russian segment on Cosmonautics Day 2016.

The Expedition 47 crew began May exploring botany, genetic analysis and life science. SpaceX is also getting ready for the May 11 release and splashdown of its Dragon spacecraft.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams harvested and fixated plants grown for the Plant Gravity Sensing study. Scientists seek to understand the chemical process that guides the direction of roots and how they sense gravity. Williams is also validating the new WetLab-2 system hardware to extract RNA from a cell sample in microgravity.

British astronaut Tim Peake swapped gear on a specialized microscope that can download imagery and video to scientists on the ground. Peake also saved data collected from an armband for the Energy study then moved on to the Rodent Research study that observes muscle and bone loss in space.

Commander Tim Kopra and Williams are packing and securing cargo inside Dragon for return to Earth next week. SpaceX engineers on a ship will retrieve the Dragon in the Pacific Ocean and return it to a port in southern California. The gear and research will be returned to NASA for analysis.