Dragon Departs Station and Heads Back to Earth for Splashdown

SpaceX Dragon Departure
The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship is pictured moments after being released from the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm on Jan. 13, 2018. Credit: NASA TV

Ground controllers released the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 4:58 a.m. EST. The capsule will begin a series of departure burns and maneuvers to move beyond the “keep out sphere” around the station for its return trip to Earth.

Dragon’s thrusters will be fired to move the spacecraft a safe distance from the station before SpaceX flight controllers in Hawthorne, California, command its deorbit burn about 9:43 a.m. The capsule will splashdown about 10:36 a.m. in the Pacific Ocean, where recovery forces will retrieve the capsule and its nearly 4,100 pounds of cargo. This cargo will include science samples from human and animal research, external payloads, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations and education activities.

The deorbit burn and splashdown will not be broadcast on NASA TV.

NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the non-profit organization that manages research aboard the U.S. national laboratory portion of the space station, will receive time-sensitive samples and begin working with researchers to process and distribute them within 48 hours of splashdown.

Dragon, the only space station resupply spacecraft currently able to return to Earth intact, launched Dec. 15 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and arrived at the station Dec. 17 for the company’s 13th NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission.

Keep up with the International Space Station, and its research and crew members, at www.nasa.gov/station.

Get breaking news, images, videos and features from the station on social media at:


Dragon Cargo Craft Prepped for Saturday Morning Release

SpaceX Dragon
The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is seen through the cupola as it arrived Dec. 17, 2017, for its robotic capture and installation at the International Space Station.

NASA Television coverage of the departure of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft from the International Space Station will begin on Saturday, Jan. 13 at 4:30 a.m. EST. The spacecraft is targeted for release at 5 a.m. Watch live on NASA TV or the agency’s website.

Dragon was robotically detached from the Earth-facing side of the station’s Harmony module today at 5:47 p.m. The resupply ship launched to the space station Dec. 15 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying more than 4,800 pounds of supplies and cargo on SpaceX’s 13th commercial resupply mission to the station for NASA.

The capsule is currently scheduled to splash down in the Pacific Ocean at about 10:36 a.m., just to the west of Baja California. It will return about 4,100 pounds of cargo, including research samples.

Keep up with the International Space Station, and its research and crew members, at www.nasa.gov/station.

Dragon Ready for Return, Crew Explores Space Effects on Heart

Dragon and Canadarm2
The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship is grappled by the Canadarm2 on Jan. 12, 2017, as the International Space Station orbited above the South Pacific Ocean.

NASA astronauts Joe Acaba, Scott Tingle and Mark Vande Hei have wrapped up cargo operations inside the SpaceX Dragon disconnecting power cables and depressurizing the vehicle. Robotics controllers will detach Dragon resupply ship from the International Space Station’s Harmony module tonight. Dragon will then be remotely released from the grip of the Canadarm2 into Earth orbit at 5 a.m. EST Saturday for a Pacific Ocean splashdown at 10:36 a.m.

Acaba and Tingle will monitor Dragon’s departure Saturday morning from inside the cupola as controllers on Earth release a cargo craft remotely from the space station for the first time. NASA TV will broadcast live the resupply ship’s departure starting Saturday at 4:30 a.m. Splashdown will not be televised.

Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai worked a variety of life science experiments today exploring what happens to humans living in space. He started the morning drawing his blood samples and storing them in a science freezer for later analysis. He also stowed frozen science samples inside Dragon for return to Earth. At the end of the day, Kanai removed petri plates from a specialized microscope containing plant samples being observed for molecular and genetic changes caused by microgravity.

Commander Alexander Misurkin and Flight Engineer Anton Shkaplerov took body mass measurements this morning on a device that applies a known force on the subject with the resulting acceleration being used to calculate mass. The duo also partnered up for a pair of biomedical experiments including the Biocard cardiovascular study and the DAN blood pressure study.

Crew Monitors Student Contest, Packs Dragon and Works Biomedical Science

SpaceX Dragon and Canadarm2
The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship and the Canadarm2 robotic arm with the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, Dextre, attached are pictured as the space station orbited above the Gulf of Alaska.

Students on Earth are remotely testing algorithms on a pair of internal satellites as part of a competition aboard the International Space Station today. Meanwhile, the Expedition 54 crew is packing up the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft for its Saturday departure and conducting biomedical operations.

Commander Alexander Misurkin and Flight Engineer Joe Acaba are monitoring tiny satellites known as SPHERES flying inside the Japanese Kibo laboratory module. Students on Earth have uploaded algorithms maneuvering the SPHERES to compete for creating the best designs relevant to future space missions.

NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Scott Tingle are transferring rodents from the station’s animal habitat to a transporter aboard the Dragon resupply ship for return and analysis on Earth. The rodents were treated with a compound that fights muscle loss in microgravity and will be compared to a group of mice on Earth.

Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai concluded a session of the Airways Monitoring experiment stowing the research gear in the U.S. Quest airlock. The study is analyzing exhaled air to maintain astronaut health on long-term space missions. Kanai also collected his biological samples for the Probiotics study looking at the immune system and intestinal microbes living inside space station crew members.

Dragon Release Training and Astronaut Health Studies on Station Today

Astronaut Joe Acaba
Astronaut Joe Acaba works on wire connections and other maintenance tasks inside Combustion Integrated Rack gear.

The Expedition 54 crew aboard the International Space Station is training for this weekend’s departure of the SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft. The crew is also exploring regenerative life support systems and how microgravity affects breathing.

NASA astronauts Joe Acaba and Scott Tingle began their day training and reviewing for Saturday’s remotely controlled release of the Dragon resupply ship at 5 a.m. The duo took onboard computer training and discussed this weekend’s activities with engineers at Mission Control.

This is the first time robotics controllers will command the release of Dragon from the ground while Acaba and Tingle monitor from the cupola as backups. NASA TV will broadcast live the resupply ship’s departure starting Saturday at 4:30 a.m. Splashdown off the coast of California is expected at 10:36 a.m. and will not be televised.

Experimental work also took place today on the orbital laboratory to help NASA learn how to support astronauts on longer missions farther out into space.

Acaba checked bacteria cultures that could be used for carbon dioxide removal and oxygen production supporting future regenerative life support systems. Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai joined NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and measured their breathing rates today, specifically Nitric Oxide turnover in the lungs. Doctors want to minimize the risk of airway inflammation to keep astronauts healthier farther from Earth.

Crew Prepping Dragon for Departure While Studying Life Science

SpaceX Dragon
The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship with its dual outstretched solar arrays is pictured attached to the Harmony module as the International Space Station orbited above Brazil.

Robotics controllers are getting ready to uninstall the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft from the International Space Station on Friday before releasing it for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean Saturday. The Expedition 54 crew today is also continuing to study how living in space affects biology and introducing space travel concepts to students on Earth.

The crew is finishing packing up the Dragon this week and will close the spaceship’s hatch Friday and wrap up cargo operations. Houston mission controllers will remotely perform Dragon’s release operation for the first time early Saturday. Flight Engineers Joe Acaba and Scott Tingle will be inside the cupola monitoring Dragon’s departure.

Dragon will be depart the station Saturday at 5 a.m. EST loaded with science experiments and station cargo and parachute to a splashdown off the coast of California at 10:36 a.m. NASA TV will broadcast live the resupply ship’s departure starting Saturday at 4:30 a.m.

Life science continues at full pace aboard the aboard orbital laboratory today. Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai checked on rodents being treated with a compound that fights muscle loss in microgravity. Tingle took a look at plant samples to observe their genetic and molecular responses to growing in space.

Commander Alexander Misurkin along with Acaba set up a pair of tiny internal satellites, also known as SPHERES, for a dry run today ahead of a competition. Students on Earth are competing to design the best algorithms that will operate the SPHERES to simulate future space operations such as dockings and flying formations.

Robot Arm Finishes Swapping Experiments Outside Dragon

The SpaceX Dragon
The SpaceX Dragon is pictured with the Canadarm2 robotic arm in the foreground and the Earth’s limb in the background as the International Space Station soars into an orbital sunrise during Expedition 54.

Robotics controllers have completed the science cargo transfers from the rear of the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship, also known as its trunk. Dragon is due to depart the International Space Station Jan. 13 and return to Earth.

Over the holidays, the ground robotics teams remotely operated the Canadarm2 to remove a pair of new external experiments from Dragon and install them on the station. The teams also finished installing an older experiment back inside the cargo craft’s trunk in time for its departure.

Dragon delivered the Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) and the Space Debris Sensor (SDS) when it arrived on Dec. 17, 2017. TSIS-1 was attached to an External Logistics Carrier on the port solar alpha rotary joint. It will study the sun’s natural influence on the Earth’s ozone layer, atmospheric circulation, clouds, and ecosystems. The SDS was installed outside the Columbus lab module where it will directly measure the orbital debris environment around the space station for two to three years.

The successful RapidScat experiment was installed back in Dragon’s trunk after being delivered in September 23, 2014, on the SpaceX CRS-4 mission. RapidScat observed wind patterns on the ocean’s surface providing agencies better data for weather forecasting before ending its mission in August of 2016.

RapidScat will be destroyed inside Dragon’s trunk when it separates from the Dragon resupply ship to burn up over the Pacific Ocean. Dragon itself will safely parachute to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the southern coast of California.


Crew Begins 2018 Studying How Living in Space Affects Humans

Northeast coast of United States
The well-lit coasts of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut are pictured in the wee hours of New Year’s Day.

The Expedition 54 crew is starting the New Year studying how humans adapt to living in space for months and years at a time. NASA and its international partners are also learning how to support crews on longer missions with less help from the ground.

The astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station orbit Earth 16 times a day affecting their circadian rhythms, or biological clocks. Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai is helping doctors understand how being away from the normal 24-hour sunrise-sunset cycle impacts the human body. He strapped on sensors today that will measure his body composition and temperature for 36 hours.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei is helping engineers design closed-loop systems keeping crews self-sufficient on longer missions beyond low-Earth orbit. He swapped experimental containers in the Biolab Incubator containing bacteria cultures that could be used for carbon dioxide removal and oxygen production.

Crews also need to be prepared for bone injuries or dental work that may be necessary during a space mission. The Synthetic Bone experiment, that Flight Engineer Joe Acaba worked on today with Kanai, is testing how a synthetic material integrates with bone cells to address bone fractures and bone loss in space and on Earth.