Science and Suit Work as Storms Capture Attention

Hurricane Florence
Astronaut Ricky Arnold captured this view of Hurricane Florence on Sept. 10 as it churned in the Atlantic headed for the U.S. east coast. Credit: @Astro_Ricky

The six Expedition 56 crew members started the workweek today with life science and spacesuit maintenance. Meanwhile, a typhoon and a hurricane captured the attention of mission managers and the crew alike.

Commander Drew Feustel and Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold examined mice onboard the International Space Station and them today for the Rodent Research-7 (RR-7) experiment. The duo checked the breathing and mass of the rodents before placing them back in their habitat and restocking their food. RR-7 is observing how microgravity impacts gut microbes and how it may affect astronaut health.

German astronaut Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) wrapped up an experiment before finalizing spacesuit work in the U.S. Quest airlock. He stowed science gear in the morning that analyzed the exhaled air of astronauts to detect signs of airway inflammation. In the afternoon, Gerst completed the battery charging of the U.S. spacesuits then began regenerating metal oxide canisters in advance of a pair of spacewalks at the end of the month.

JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) officials are tracking Typhoon Mangkhut in the Pacific while the station crew sent down imagery of Hurricane Florence in the Atlantic. Mangkhut was moving on a course near a tracking site in Guam which JAXA uses to follow the progress of the Japanese HTV cargo craft after its launch. That launch was postponed from today to a later date. On the other side of the world, the station flew over Hurricane Florence as it neared the U.S. east coast enabling the crew to capture imagery to share with the world.

Japanese Cargo Mission Postponed

Japan's third resupply ship, the HTV-3
Japan’s third resupply ship, the HTV-3, is pictured in September of 2012 attached to the International Space Station’s Harmony module.

As a result of adverse weather conditions, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has postponed the scheduled launch of a Japanese cargo spacecraft from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan. The unpiloted H-II Transfer Vehicle-7 (HTV-7) is loaded with more than five tons of supplies, water, spare parts and experiments for the crew aboard the International Space Station.

A new launch date has not yet been determined.

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Japan Is Go for Monday Cargo Launch to Station

The Japanese HTV-6 cargo vehicle
The Japanese HTV-6 cargo vehicle is seen during final approach to the International Space Station on Dec. 13, 2016.

Japan’s seventh cargo mission (HTV-7) to the International Space Station is in the final stages of preparation for launch on Monday at 7:32 p.m. EDT. Mission controllers are monitoring the weather at the Tanegashima Space Center launch site while the Expedition 56 crew is preparing for its arrival early Friday.

JAXA’s (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) HTV-7 is delivering a wide variety of science gear to support new research aboard the orbital lab. The new facilities will enable astronauts to observe physical processes at high temperatures, protein crystal growth and genetic alterations as well as a variety of other important space phenomena.

HTV-7, also known as Kounotori, is also carrying six new lithium-ion batteries that robotics controllers will remove then install on the station’s port 4 truss structure. Astronauts Alexander Gerst, Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold will complete the battery maintenance work over two spacewalks set for Sept. 20 and 26.

Feustel will lead the effort to capture Kounotori when he commands the Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and grapple it Friday at 7:40 a.m. He trained today with Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor, who will back him up in the Cupola, practicing capture techniques on a computer.

All six crew members got together at the end of the day for more eye checks. The sextet from the U.S., Russia and Germany used an ultrasound device, with assistance from doctors on the ground, and scanned each other’s eyes.

Astronauts Swap Roles as Scientists, Spacewalkers and Robotics Controllers

NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold
NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold works on an experiment that extracts RNA from biological samples to help researchers decipher the changes in gene expression that take place in microgravity.

September is gearing up to be a very busy month aboard the International Space Station. The six Expedition 56 crew members are headlong in the first week of the month switching roles and juggling a wide variety of critical tasks.

Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold of NASA has been swapping roles today as space scientist and spacewalker. The educator-astronaut sequenced RNA today from microbes swabbed from inside the orbital lab’s surfaces. The research is helping scientists understand how life adapts to microgravity providing insights to improve crew health.

Arnold then joined his fellow crew mates, Commander Drew Feustel of NASA and Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst of ESA, at the end of the day for a review of two spacewalks scheduled for Sept. 20 and 26. The trio reviewed robotics maneuvers and other tasks required for the external battery maintenance work on the Port 4 truss structure at the end of the month.

Feustel also trained for his role as the prime robotics controller when he captures JAXA’s (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) HTV-7 cargo craft with the Canadarm2 robotic arm on Sept. 14. JAXA’s seventh resupply ship to visit the space station is due to launch Monday at 6:32 p.m. EDT.

From inside the cupola, Feustel will command the Canadarm2 to reach out and grapple the HTV-7 as Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor backs him up next Friday at 7:40 a.m. Gerst and Auñón-Chancellor both joined Feustel for the robotics training today during their afternoon.

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Science Gear Work, Japan Spaceship Preps Ahead of Orbital Reboost

The Expedition 56 crew members pose for a fun portrait
The Expedition 56 crew members pose for a fun portrait in the International Space Station’s Harmony module. Clockwise from top are Expedition 56 Flight Engineers Serena Auñón-Chancellor, Oleg Artemyev, Sergey Prokopyev and Ricky Arnold. In the center, from left, are ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst and Expedition 56 Commander Drew Feustel of NASA.

The Expedition 56 crew members conducted maintenance work on a variety of advanced science gear today to ensure ongoing space research aboard the International Space Station. The crew also continued a pair of exercise studies and trained to capture a Japanese cargo craft before tonight’s orbital reboost of the station.

Commander Drew Feustel spent Wednesday afternoon inside ESA’s (European Space Agency) Columbus laboratory module working on the Electromagnetic Levitator (EML). He installed a new storage disc and a high speed camera controller inside the EML. The space furnace enables research and observations of the properties of materials exposed to extremely high temperatures.

Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold worked in JAXA’s (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Kibo laboratory module during the morning replacing valves inside the EXPRESS Rack-5. The science rack, which was delivered to the orbital lab in 2001, can host a variety of experiments operated by astronauts on the station or remotely by scientists on Earth.

Astronaut Alexander Gerst of ESA has been contributing to a pair of German exercise studies for a few weeks to help doctors maintain astronaut health. Today, he continued testing a custom-designed thermal t-shirt and researching a wearable device for real-time cardio-pulmonary diagnosis during a workout.

Gerst and Feustel wrapped up the day with Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor reviewing next week’s arrival of JAXA’s HTV-7 resupply ship. The HTV-7’s launch is planned for Monday at 6:32 p.m. EDT and its capture with the Canadarm2 set for Sept. 14 at 7:40 a.m. NASA TV will cover both activities live.

Finally, the orbital lab is due to raise its orbit tonight in the second of three planned maneuvers to prepare for a crew swap in October. The Zvezda service module will fire its engines for 13 seconds slightly boosting the station’s orbit in advance of a pair of Soyuz crew ships departing and arriving next month.

Astronauts Get Ready for Japan’s Seventh Cargo Mission and Two U.S. Spacewalks

Japan's last cargo craft, the HTV-6, is pictured in the grips of the Canadarm2
Japan’s last cargo craft, the HTV-6, is pictured in the grips of the Canadarm2 moments before its release ending its stay Jan. 27, 2017, at the International Space Station.

A rocket carrying Japan’s seventh H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-7) is poised to launch next Monday on a cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station. The Expedition 56 crew members trained for the HTV-7’s arrival, conducted eye checks and prepared for a pair of spacewalks.

On Sept. 10, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is launching a cargo craft, exactly nine years to the day JAXA launched its first HTV mission, to the space station. The HTV-7 will take a four-day trip before reaching a point just 10 meters away from the orbital lab. Commander Drew Feustel will then grapple it with the Canadarm2 robotic arm as Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor backs him up inside the cupola.

The duo practiced for next week’s approach and rendezvous of the HTV-7 then turned their attention to eye exams and ultrasound eye scans. Their cosmonaut crewmates, Oleg Artemyev and Sergey Prokopyev, also participated in the eye exams using Optical Coherence Tomography for detailed views of their retinas.

After the HTV-7 arrives, robotics controllers will begin the work of removing six new lithium-ion batteries from the HTV-7’s External Pallet and storing them on the Port 4 (P4) truss structure. They will replace a dozen older nickel-hydrogen batteries on the station’s P4. Nine of the older batteries will be stowed inside the HTV-7 for disposal and the other three stored on the P4.

Three astronauts will then install and hookup the battery adapter plates over a pair of spacewalks planned for Sept. 20 and 26. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst will participate in both spacewalks, with Feustel on the first and NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold on the second.

NASA TV is broadcasting live the HTV-7 launch and rendezvous activities as well as both spacewalks.

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