The International Space Station fired its engines Wednesday night slightly raising its orbit to accommodate a crew exchange in April. In the meantime, the six-person Expedition 50 crew continued learning how living in space affects the human body.
The station’s third module, the Zvezda service module which launched in 2000, fired its main engines for 43 seconds overnight. The orbital reboost places the station at the correct altitude for the departure of three Expedition 50 crew members April 10. Just ten days later, two new space residents will arrive completing the Expedition 51 crew.
Scientists are exploring the best nutrition requirements to keep astronauts healthy and productive during long-term space missions. Astronaut Thomas Pesquet is contributing to that research today beginning a prescribed diet for the next 11 days. During that period he will collect urine samples and measure his breathing for the Energy study. Results will help researchers plan meals to ensure successful missions farther out into space.
Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson, who will become station commander April 9, peered at stem cells through a specialized microscope on today. She is helping scientists understand how microgravity increases stem cell replication possibly improving disease treatments on Earth.
The International Space Station will boost its orbit Wednesday night to get ready for a crew swap next month. Three Expedition 50 crew members will complete their mission and a new two-person crew will launch to the station in April.
Commander Shane Kimbrough and his crewmates Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko will end their mission April 10 after 173 days in space. The trio will undock from the Poisk mini-research module in their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft officially ending the Expedition 50 mission.
The reboost also readies the station for the arrival of two new crew members who will arrive April 20. Veteran cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronaut Jack Fischer, a first-time space flyer, will take a short four-orbit ride aboard the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft and dock to Poisk. The new Expedition 51 trio is scheduled to stay in space for 136 days.
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will become Expedition 51 commander after Kimbrough and his crew undock. She is staying behind with fellow crewmates Thomas Pesquet from France and Oleg Novitskiy from Russia. They will stay in space until June 2 ending their mission after 195 days when they return home in their Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft.
Engineers on the ground switched from one pump to another in the thermal cooling system for one of the particle detectors on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), an experiment to study cosmic ray particle physics from the outside of the International Space Station. The silicon tracker is one of several detectors that collect data on cosmic particles and is equipped with four redundant pumps used to circulate carbon dioxide to maintain the required temperature in the changing thermal environment outside the station. A pump stopped functioning on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, and was the second to stop after a different pump experienced a similar issue in March, 2014. Only one pump is required to operate at a given time, and long-term planning is underway to potentially bypass the pumps and associated equipment with an upgraded system put in place during a series of spacewalks. AMS launched in 2011, and results have already contributed to science showing potential indirect evidence of dark matter and other new cosmic ray particle physics discoveries.