What Does It Take to Keep the Station Stocked With Supplies?

The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship approaches the International Space Station before its capture on April 4, 2018 as both spacecraft begin an orbital pass off the southern coast of Namibia then northwest across the continent of Africa.

The crew on board the International Space Station has been busy this month unloading the bounty of supplies and equipment brought up by the SpaceX Dragon and repacking it with cargo to be returned to Earth. If you’ve ever wondered what goes into a layover at the space station, check out chapter 14 of the new NASA ebook, The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier. The book, which was written by space station flight directors, is now available to download for free at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 14: Vital Visiting Vehicles – Keeping the Remote Outpost Crewed and Operating.

Purpose and Importance of Visiting Vehicles

On Earth, a person’s typical week might consist of a trip to the grocery store, several trips to the local home improvement store, taking out the trash and recyclables, and doing a few loads of laundry. If something is broken in the home, a replacement part is ordered and the homeowner must wait for a delivery. Or, he or she might need to schedule a professional to make the repair. Homeowners probably do not think about the water supply. They definitely do not worry about the supply of oxygen needed to breathe or the removal of carbon dioxide that is expelled from the human body.

The International Space Station (ISS) is a unique, world-class orbiting laboratory. It is also home to astronauts and cosmonauts. The logistics of keeping such a home running are complicated. In space, there are no grocery stores or home improvements stores. The “trash truck” only comes around every few months. Washers and dryers for clothing do not exist, and access to clean attire can take months. Much of the breathable air and drinkable water must be delivered. When supplies (e.g., bathroom tissue) are low, crew members cannot tap a few keys on the computer and wait for resupplies to arrive at the door. They call Mission Control and place their order, and then they wait.

Moving astronauts and cosmonauts, science experiments, food, water, air, spare parts, and other supplies to and from the ISS is a highly choreographed international operation that must be executed with near perfection, every time. Such an effort requires more than one spacecraft. This was never more evident than in an 8-month span between October 2014 and June 2015 when three different resupply missions were lost during or shortly after launch. Three different rockets from three different companies experienced three different failures. According to statistics, this scenario was supposed to be nearly impossible. Yet, it happened. Operations on board the ISS continued despite the lack of resupply.

So, exactly what does it take to keep the ISS resupplied? It starts with a procession of vehicles from around the world that visit the ISS.

Keep reading at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH.

Crew Packs Dragon With Science While Continuing More Space Research

Flight Engineer Drew Feustel
Flight Engineer Drew Feustel holds a bag containing samples that had been collected, documented and inspected for the Protein Crystal Growth-9 experiment.

The Expedition 55 crew members are packing up the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft today for its return to Earth on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the six International Space Station residents continue operating a multitude of space experiments while ensuring the orbital lab remains in tip-top shape.

NASA astronauts Scott Tingle and Ricky Arnold transferred an array of biological samples from station science freezers to specialized freezers stowed inside Dragon. The research samples are for analysis by scientists and are among a variety of cargo, including station hardware for refurbishment, returning to Earth inside Dragon Wednesday.

NASA TV begins its live coverage of the Dragon departure at 10 a.m. EDT on Wednesday. Robotics controllers on the ground will command the Canadarm2 to release Dragon at 10:22 a.m. Tingle will be in the Cupola monitoring the release and departure activities. Dragon will fire its engines for the final time at 3:06 p.m. beginning its descent back into Earth’s atmosphere before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean around 4 p.m. NASA TV will not cover Dragon’s splashdown about 260 miles southwest of Long Beach, Calif.

Flight Engineer Drew Feustel tended to a variety of experiment hardware today supporting life science and biomedical research. He spent the morning working on the Multi-Use Variable-G Platform that houses tiny organisms such as fruit flies, flatworms, plants, fish and cells. Feustel then configured the Human Research Facility-2 with gear enabling ongoing observations of the physical and mental changes taking place in astronauts living in space.

Astronauts and Robotics Controllers Prepping Dragon for Departure

Houston and Galveston Bay
Houston, Texas, the home of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and Galveston Bay are pictured from the space station at an altitude of about 250 miles.

Robotics controllers and Expedition 55 crew members are getting ready for the departure of the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship next week. The commercial space freighter will leave the International Space Station and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday loaded with cargo for retrieval and analysis.

Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold powered up command and communications gear today that will aid the crew when Dragon departs the station on Wednesday at 10:22 a.m. EDT. NASA TV will begin its live coverage of the departure activities at 10 a.m. Dragon will splashdown in the Pacific Ocean about six hours later to be recovered by SpaceX and NASA personnel. The splashdown off the southern coast of California will not be seen on NASA TV.

The Canadarm2 will be remotely maneuvered today to grapple Dragon today while it is still attached to the Harmony module. In the meantime the 57.7-foot-long robotic arm and its fine-tuned robotic hand, also known as Dextre, are completing the installation of an external materials exposure experiment outside of Japan’s Kibo laboratory module.

Astronauts Drew Feustel and Scott Tingle are still packing Dragon today with a variety of cargo including space station hardware and research samples. The STaARS-1 experiment facility has completed a year of operations at the station and is being readied for its return aboard Dragon next week. The research device supported observations of living systems exposed to simulated gravity such as Earth, the Moon and Mars. Feustel also stowed faulty life support gear in Dragon for refurbishment back on Earth.

Astronauts Explore Life Science and Prepare for Spacewalk

NASA astronaut Scott Tingle
NASA astronaut Scott Tingle prepares video equipment for a series of education videos being recorded for the STEMonstration campaign which demonstrates scientific concepts in space for students and teachers.

A wide variety of life science is being explored today aboard the International Space Station as Expedition 55 crew members prepare for a spacewalk planned for next month. The space residents also continued the upkeep of the orbital lab while robotics controllers set up an external experiment.

Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai split his time today between tending mice and removing sensors attached to his arm. The rodents are being observed to detect the chemical signals that lead to muscle and bone loss in space and to provide therapies to keep astronauts healthy. Kanai also removed an armband monitor and sensors he wore for 36 hours that recorded alterations in his circadian rhythm caused by living in space.

Flight Engineers Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel are getting ready for a May 16 spacewalk to swap out thermal control gear that circulates ammonia to keep station systems cool. The duo readied their spacewalk tools today then dumped water and purged gases from a pair of U.S. spacesuits.

Scott Tingle of NASA worked inside the Harmony module today to replace a deteriorating Pump Package Assembly (PPA) with a spare device. The PPA is a thermal control system that provides water cooling to station payloads and critical systems avionics.

Science is also taking place outside the space station and robotics controllers are working to transfer a tray for the materials exposure experiment (MISSE-FF) outside of the Kibo lab module through the lab’s airlock for reconfiguration tomorrow. The complex robotic maneuvers are remotely controlled from the ground and use not only the Canadarm2 robotic arm but also the fine-tuning robotic hand known as Dextre. MISSE-FF will test materials, coatings, and components in the harsh environment of space.

Also, overnight, Russian flight controllers sent commands to deorbit the unpiloted ISS Progress 68 cargo craft that had been orbiting for the past month for engineering test following its undocking from the station March 28. It burned up harmlessly in the Earth’s atmosphere over the southern Pacific.

Station Set to Orbit Higher as Crew Performs Biomedical Tests

Expedition 55 Flight Engineer Drew Feustel of NASA
Expedition 55 Flight Engineer Drew Feustel of NASA is inside the Japanese Kibo laboratory module talking to dignitaries on Earth, including university officials, musicians and scientists, during an educational event that took place at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

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.

New Book Offers Inside Look at Station Flight Controllers

Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier
The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier, is now available to download for free at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH

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.

Keep reading at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH.

More Human Research as Dragon Offers New Earth Observation Gear

SpaceX Dragon Space Freighter
The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship, with the 57.7-foot-long Canadarm2 robotic arm in the foreground, is pictured installed to the Harmony module’s Earth-facing port.

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.

Variety of Life Studied to Benefit Humans on Earth and in Space

Daybreak and Aurora
Daybreak begins to interrupt this aurora as the International Space Station flies an orbital day pass.

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.

Crew Researches Biology and Physics, Practices for Emergency

Italy and the Mediterranean Sea
This oblique view taken above southeastern Europe looks west over Italy and into the Mediterranean Sea toward France and Spain.

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.

Resupply Ship Midway to Station Amid Maintenance and Science Work

The "Horn of Africa"
The “Horn of Africa” is seen through one of the seven windows that make up the Cupola, a dome-shaped module on the International Space Station. The space station crew will be inside the Cupola Wednesday morning operating a robotics workstation to capture the upcoming SpaceX Dragon.

The SpaceX Dragon space freighter is midway on its trip to the resupply the International Space Station’s Expedition 55 crew. Waiting to capture Dragon Wednesday morning are Flight Engineers Norishige Kanai and Scott Tingle.

The two astronauts have been reviewing procedures and training on a computer for Dragon’s capture for a few weeks now. Kanai will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and grapple Dragon about 7 a.m. EDT Wednesday when it reaches a point about 10 meters away from the station. Tingle is backing up Kanai and will monitor Dragon’s approach and rendezvous from inside the Cupola. Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold will be assisting the duo by overseeing approach telemetry from a communications unit on the space station. NASA TV will begin its live mission coverage starting at 5:30 a.m.

Dragon is carrying a variety of cargo including new science experiments researching the human body, plants and how materials react when exposed to space. The Marrow study will explore bone marrow and the blood cells it produces. PONDS will explore ways to achieve uniform plant growth as astronauts supplement their diets with fresh space-grown greens. The Materials ISS Experiment Flight Facility, or MISSE-FF, will observe what happens to materials exposed to outer space phenomena such as ultraviolet radiation, charged particles and micro-meteoroids.

Meanwhile, the six space station residents are keeping the orbital lab in tip-top shape today while continuing ongoing scientific studies. Commander Anton Shkaplerov stayed focused on maintenance duties in the station’s Russian segment. New Expedition 55 crew members Ricky Arnold, Drew Feustel and Oleg Artemyev had time set aside to get used to their new home in space.

Tingle swapped out Combustion Integrated Rack hardware in the Destiny lab module. Kanai readied mouse habitat gear for a rodent study being delivered on Dragon. Kanai and Tingle later ended the day with more Dragon robotics practice.