The outside of the International Space Station is a harsh environment but scientists are taking advantage of the extreme conditions to conduct advanced space research. Astronauts are also researching what happens to a variety of organisms living for months at a time inside a spacecraft as NASA prepares for longer missions farther out into space.
The fifth and final external materials experiment (MISSE) delivered by the latest SpaceX Dragon resupply ship was activated outside the orbital lab today. Robotics engineers operating the Canadarm2 and Dextre extracted and installed the MISSE canisters one by one from Dragon’s trunk to areas on the station. The canisters were then remotely opened exposing a variety of materials to the vacuum of space to help engineers design safer and stronger spacecraft systems.
Back inside the orbital lab, Flight Engineer Scott Tingle of NASA harvested and photographed plants for the APEX-06 study today. The botanical samples collected from the VEGGIE facility were later processed and stowed in a science freezer for return to Earth inside the Dragon cargo craft. They will be analyzed after being quickly shipped to scientists at NASA and the University of Wisconsin.
NASA Flight Engineers Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel once again partnered up and collected their blood and urine samples today for more biomedical experiments. Researchers are analyzing the samples as they continuously study how the human body adapts to extended periods of weightlessness. Results will help doctors provide therapies to maintain the health of astronauts in space and humans on Earth.
Mice are also being observed on the space station so scientists can detect the chemical signals that lead to weakened bones and muscles. Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai drew more blood samples from the rodents today and wrapped up a week-long run of the Mouse Stress Defense experiment. The blood samples will be processed in a centrifuge, stowed in biological science freezer then returned to Earth inside Dragon for analysis on Earth.
Biomedical research to improve health on Earth and in space dominated today’s science activities aboard the International Space Station. The Expedition 55 crew is helping scientists from around the world understand how life shaped by gravity adapts to living in outer space.
NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel joined forces today collecting and stowing their blood samples in a science freezer for a pair of human research studies. The samples will be analyzed later to detect the chemical responses and physiological changes that take place in the human body during a spaceflight mission.
Blood samples were also drawn from mice as Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai continued his week-long research activities for the Mouse Stress Defense experiment. Those samples will be processed in centrifuge, stowed in a freezer then analyzed to detect the processes that lead to muscle and bone loss in microgravity. Astronauts could benefit from the results and stay healthier on longer missions farther into space.
Exercise is a very important contributor to maintaining stronger bones and muscles in space. However, exercise devices are bulky and can impact spacecraft habitability. Arnold tested a newer, smaller device today called the Miniature Exercise Device-2 that provides a range of motion and resistance workouts while maximizing habitable spacecraft volume.
A docked Russian cargo craft automatically fired its engines this morning boosting the International Space Station’s altitude a little higher. During the rest of the day, the Expedition 55 crew supported life science and swapped out station hardware.
Russia’s Progress 69 resupply ship docked to the Zvezda service module fired its thrusters boosting the station’s orbit today. The two-minute, six-second burn establishes the correct orbit when three crew members undock and land in June and a two-orbit rendezvous capability for the Progress 70P resupply craft when it launches in July.
NASA crewmates Scott Tingle, Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel became lab assistants today as they collected and stowed their own blood, urine and saliva samples in a science freezer. Two long-running human research experiments, Biochemical Profile and Repository, are basing their results on the analysis of these samples helping scientists understand how microgravity impacts the human body.
Tingle later tested the Miniature Exercise Device-2 for providing a range of motion and resistance exercise while taking up less space aboard the station. Feustel installed new firewall gear in the Harmony module before replacing manifold bottles in the Combustion Integrated Rack. Arnold worked with commercial science hardware then processed samples for a protein crystal growth student experiment.
Mice are being observed on the orbital lab today to understand the physiological signals that lead to muscle and bone loss in space. Norishige Kanai from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency collected blood samples from the mice to be processed, analyzed and stowed in a science freezer. Scientists are studying the effectiveness of a drug therapy to prevent those stresses and signals that cause weakened bones and muscles.
The International Space Station is set to raise its orbit Wednesday ahead of upcoming cargo and crew missions. Meanwhile, the six Expedition 55 crew members are staying busy today with medical tests, cargo work and lab maintenance.
The space station will increase its altitude slightly when a docked Russian cargo craft automatically fires its engines for two minutes and six seconds early Wednesday. The maneuver will establish the correct orbit for the landing of three crew members in June and a two-orbit rendezvous capability for the next Russian Progress resupply craft in July.
Flight Engineer Scott Tingle collected and stowed his own urine sample today for a pair of biomedical studies examining the effects of spaceflight on the human body. The U.S. Navy pilot also continued operations for the Metabolic Tracking (MT) experiment that observes how human tissue samples are impacted by a specific drug compound.
Expedition 55-56 crewmates Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold checked each other’s eyes today using optical coherence tomography gear inside the Harmony module. Feustel also installed and checked the station’s first updated printer since 2000 before wrapping up his day unloading cargo from the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft. Arnold finally collected water samples and changed out a cartridge as part of preventative maintenance on a U.S. oxygen generator.
Astronaut Norishige Kanai from Japan continued more upkeep work for the Mouse Stress Defense experiment that is exploring the causes of muscle and bone loss in space. The busy flight engineer later assisted his fellow crew members unloading SpaceX cargo before injecting human tissue samples with a drug compound for the MT study.
Scientists on the ground and in space this week are exploring a wide variety of phenomena affecting humans living in space. The ongoing life science aboard the International Space Station is designed to improve astronauts’ health in space and benefit people on Earth.
Medicine plays an important role in an astronaut’s health and doctors want to know more about how drug therapies work in space. NASA Flight Engineer Drew Feustel supported the medicine research today and injected human tissue samples with a drug compound for the Metabolic Tracking study. Those samples will be incubated then frozen before returning to Earth to be analyzed. Results may help the pharmaceutical industry design better, cheaper drugs for humans on Earth and in space.
Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai is tending to mice today, cleaning their habitats and preparing for a week-long run of the Mouse Stress Defense experiment. The Expedition 55 crew and doctors on Earth are observing the mice to understand the processes leading to muscle and bone loss in microgravity. Researchers are testing therapies that may prevent the physiological signals and stresses in space that lead to a weakened musculoskeletal system.
Other important space research taking place throughout the week will look at how plants grow off Earth possibly sustaining future crews and improving Earth agriculture. The crew will also test the new Miniature Exercise Device-2 for providing a range of motion and resistance exercise while taking up less space aboard the station.
More external cargo operations took place outside the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship over the weekend. Robotics controllers remotely operating the Canadarm2 stowed a failed pump flow control sub-assembly (PFCS) in Dragon’s trunk ahead of a May spacewalk. That spacewalk will see two astronauts work outside the station to relocate a series of spare sub-assemblies for functional testing.
Ever wanted a deeper dive into the life of the International Space Station? The flight directors in charge of the teams that oversee its systems have written a 400-page book that offers an inside look at the time and energy the flight control team at the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston devote to the development, planning and integration of a mission.
The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier, is now available to download for free at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH.
Here’s an excerpt from the book to give you a taste of what to expect:
Chapter 10: Preparing for the Unexpected
At 2:49 a.m. Central Standard Time, a red alarm illuminated the giant front wall display in Mission Control in Houston. The alert read: TOXIC ATMOSPHERE Node 2 LTL IFHX NH3 Leak Detected.
The meaning was clear. Ammonia was apparently leaking into the Interface Heat Exchanger (IFHX) of the Low Temperature cooling Loop (LTL) in the Node 2 module.
“Flight, ETHOS, I expect the crew to be pressing in emergency response while I confirm,” said the flight controller from Environmental and Thermal Operating Systems (ETHOS). In other words, the crew needed to don oxygen masks to protect themselves from ammonia while ETHOS looked more closely at these data.
This was not a drill. When the red alarm appeared, the flight director turned her full attention to ETHOS. The words—unwelcome at any time from ETHOS—were especially jarring at an hour when the crew and the ground were humming along on a busy day of running experiments. Of the many failures for which the flight control team prepares, especially in simulations, this failure presents one of the most life-threatening situations, and one the team never wants to encounter on the actual vehicle.
On January 14, 2015, this scenario happened on the International Space Station (ISS). Data on the ETHOS console indicated toxic ammonia could be bleeding in from the external loops, through the waterbased IFHX, and into the cabin (see Chapter 11). Software on the ISS immediately turned off the fans and closed the vents between all modules to prevent the spread of ammonia. At the sound of the alarm, crew members immediately began their memorized response of getting to the Russian Segment (considered a safe haven, since that segment does not have ammonia systems) and closed the hatch that connected to the United States On-orbit Segment (USOS). They took readings with a sensitive sensor to determine the level of ammonia in the cabin. The flight control team—especially the flight director, ETHOS, and the capsule communicator (CAPCOM [a holdover term from the early days of the space program])—waited anxiously for the results while they looked for clues in the data to see how much, if any, ammonia was entering the cabin. Already, the flight director anticipated multiple paths that the crew and ground would take, depending on the information received.
No ammonia was detected in the cabin of the Russian Segment. At the same time, flight control team members looked at multiple indications in their data and did not see the expected confirming cues of a real leak. In fact, it was starting to look as if an unusual computer problem was providing incorrect readings, resulting in a false alarm. After looking carefully at the various indications and starting up an internal thermal loop pump, the team verified that no ammonia had leaked into the space station. The crew was not in danger. After 9 hours, the flight control team allowed the crew back inside the USOS. However, during the “false ammonia event,” as it came to be called, the team’s vigilance, discipline, and confidence came through. No panicking. Only measured responses to quickly exchange information and instructions.
Hearts were pumping rapidly, yet onlookers would have noticed little difference from any other day.
A key to the success of the ISS Program is that it is operated by thoroughly trained, well-prepared, competent flight controllers. The above example is just one of many where the team is unexpectedly thrust into a dangerous situation that can put the crew at risk or jeopardize the success of the mission. Both the flight controllers and the crews, often together, take part in simulations. Intense scenarios are rehearsed over and over again so that when a real failure occurs, the appropriate reaction has become second nature.
After these types of simulations, team members might figure out a better way to do something, and then tuck that additional knowledge into their “back pocket” in the event of a future failure. Perhaps the most famous example of this occurred following a simulation in the Apollo Program. After the instructor team disabled the main spacecraft, the flight controllers began thinking about using the lunar module as a lifeboat. When the Apollo 13 spacecraft was damaged significantly by an exploding oxygen tank, the flight control team already had some rough ideas as to what they might do. Since the scenario was not considered likely owing to all the safety precautions, the team had not developed detailed procedures. However, the ideas were there.
The Expedition 55 crew continued exploring today the numerous ways the human body is affected when living in space long-term. More cargo transfers are also taking place both inside and outside the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship.
NASA Flight Engineer Scott Tingle processed human tissue cultures for the Metabolic Tracking (MT) experiment to help doctors understand how medicine impacts astronauts. His fellow NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold looked at a set of different biological samples for the student-built Genes in Space-5 experiment. That study is researching if DNA alterations and a weakened immune system are connected due to microgravity.
Arnold later joined Flight Engineer Drew Feustel for a routine eye exam with a fundoscope to get a good look at their retinas. The duo also worked to unload more cargo from Dragon which has been attached to the Harmony module since April 4.
Back on the ground at Mission Control in Houston, robotics engineers are working to remotely extract the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) experiment from Dragon’s trunk. They are operating the Canadarm2 to detach ASIM, an Earth observation facility, from Dragon and install it on the Columbus laboratory module. ASIM will study severe thunderstorms and their role in the Earth’s atmosphere and climate.
Today’s research aboard the International Space Station is primarily focusing on how plants react and how medicine works in space. The Expedition 55 crew and robotics controllers are also continuing cargo operations inside and outside the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft.
Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold participated today in the Plant Gravity Perception experiment, one of several ongoing space botany studies. The station crew is helping scientists explore how plants determine which way to grow and perceive light in microgravity. Results may help future astronauts training for longer missions beyond low-Earth orbit learn how to grow crops in space to sustain themselves.
Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai continued research into how the human body in space metabolizes medicine. NASA astronaut Drew Feustel started operations with the Metabolic Tracking (MT) experiment this morning before handing it off to Kanai. MT is looking at a particular type of medicine and how it interacts with human tissue cultures. Results could improve therapies in space and lead to better, cheaper drugs on Earth.
Scott Tingle of NASA partnered with Arnold today unloading more cargo from Dragon. They continue to unpack several thousand pounds of new science experiments, station hardware and crew supplies.
Outside the Dragon in its trunk is the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) experiment that will be robotically removed Friday. Engineers on the ground operating the Canadarm2 will maneuver ASIM, an Earth observation facility, and install it on Europe’s Columbus lab module.
The Expedition 55 crew explored a wide variety of life science today studying how different biological systems are affected by long-term exposure to microgravity. The multi-faceted space residents observed human genetic and tissue samples, rodents and fruit flies aboard the orbital laboratory today.
Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold started his morning gearing up the student-designed Genes in Space-5 experiment. He processed hardware and genetic samples to help scientists understand the relationship between DNA alterations and weakened immune systems possibly caused by living in space.
Arnold later joined fellow NASA astronaut Drew Feustel for ultrasound eye exams with remote assistance from doctors on the ground. Feustel wrapped up his workday checking on fruit flies housed in the Multi-Use Variable-G Platform that enables research into smaller and microscopic organisms.
Norishige Kanai, from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, tended to mice recently launched to space aboard the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft. The rodents are part of the Mouse Stress Defense experiment that tests strategies to counteract microgravity stresses and cell signaling that lead to bone and muscle loss.
Doctors are learning how medicine works in space and what it does inside astronaut’s bodies. NASA Flight Engineer Scott Tingle looked at a particular type of medicine today and how it interacts with human tissue cultures. Results could improve therapies in space and lead to better, cheaper drugs on Earth.
The fully-staffed Expedition 55 crew worked throughout the International Space Station today exploring how microgravity affects a variety of phenomena including biology and physics. The six long-term space residents also practiced a simulated emergency today to maintain their safety skills and awareness.
Flight Engineer Drew Feustel started Tuesday collecting a urine sample and stowing it inside the Human Research Facility’s (HRF) science freezer for later analysis. Shortly afterward, Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai inserted a dosimeter and biological samples in the HRF’s freezer to research the effects of cosmic radiation on mammalian reproduction.
Commander Anton Shkaplerov swapped manifold bottles inside the Combustion Integrated Rack, a device that enables the safe observation of flames and soot on the orbital laboratory. Shkaplerov’s work today is in support of the Advanced Combustion Microgravity Experiment (ACME). ACME is a set of five independent studies researching gaseous flames in space that may enable more fuel efficient and less polluting technologies on Earth.
NASA astronaut Scott Tingle unpacked new medicine for the crew from the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship today. He also packed up and stowed expired or unused medicine back inside Dragon for return and disposal back on Earth.
The entire crew got together in the middle of the day and trained for the unlikely event of an emergency aboard the orbital lab today. The four astronauts and two cosmonauts practiced communication coordination and familiarized themselves with the location of response areas and safety gear.
Meanwhile, robotics flight controllers are remotely swapping Pump Flow Subassemblies on the outside of the station. They are removing a spare launched on Dragon and replacing it with a failed unit on the Port 6 truss. This is the first of a series of maneuvers that will culminate with another swap of components during the next spacewalk in mid-May.