Spacesuits, Life Science and Robotic Assistant Work Start the Week

Astronaut David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency
Astronaut David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency takes pictures of the Earth below from inside the International Space Station’s “window to the world,” the seven-windowed cupola.

Spacesuit work, robotic assistants as well as exercise and biology studies took up the majority of the Expedition 58 crew’s schedule on Monday. The rest of February at the International Space Station will be primarily science work before March ramps up with crew and cargo missions and spacewalks.

Flight Engineer Anne McClain of NASA opened up the Fluids Integrated Rack and set up protein crystal samples inside a specialized microscope for photographing. The research is supporting a series of Biophysics experiments exploring potential pharmaceutical benefits for humans on and off Earth.

After lunch, McClain spent the rest of the afternoon emptying and refilling water in the U.S. spacesuit cooling loops. She also verified the spacesuits’ ability to transfer high-speed data during usage. NASA is currently targeting the end of March to begin a trio of maintenance spacewalks.

Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques strapped himself into an exercise bike today to measure his breathing and aerobic capacity. He attached breathing tubes and sensors to himself to help doctors understand the effects of microgravity on pulmonary function and physical exertion.

In the afternoon, he set up a docking station where tiny free-flying robots can mount themselves in Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. Powered by fans and guided by a vision system, the Astrobee autonomous assistants may free up more science time for astronauts and allow mission controllers better monitoring capabilities.

Astronauts Release U.S. Spacecraft from Station

Cygnus Released from Canadarm2
The Cygnus is pictured moments after its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Credit: NASA TV

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft was released from the Canadarm2 at 11:16 a.m. EST and has departed the International Space Station. After an extended mission to deploy several CubeSats in multiple orbits, Cygnus is scheduled to be deorbited on Feb. 25 to enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up harmlessly over the Pacific Ocean.

Expedition 58 Flight Engineers Anne McClain of NASA and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency used the station’s robotic arm to release the craft, dubbed the “SS John Young”, after ground controllers unbolted the cargo vehicle from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module earlier this morning.

This Commercial Resupply Services contract mission delivered dozens of new and existing investigations as Expedition 58 contributes to some hundreds of science and research studies. Highlights from the new experiments include a demonstration of 3D printing and recycling technology and simulating the creation of celestial bodies from stardust.

The Refabricator is the first-ever 3D printer and recycler integrated into one user-friendly machine. Once it’s installed in the space station, it will demonstrate recycling of waste plastic and previously 3D printed parts already on-board into high-quality filament, or 3D printer “ink.” This recycled filament will be fed into the printer as stock to make new tools and parts on-demand in space. This technology could enable closed-loop, sustainable fabrication, repair and recycling on long-duration space missions, and greatly reduce the need to continually launch large supplies of new material and parts for repairs and maintenance. The demonstration, which NASA’s Space Technology Mission and Human Exploration and Operations Directorates co-sponsored, is considered a key enabling technology for in-space manufacturing. NASA awarded a Small Business Innovation Research contract valued to Tethers Unlimited Inc. to build the recycling system.

The Experimental Chondrule Formation at the International Space Station (EXCISS) investigation will explore how planets, moons and other objects in space formed by simulating the high-energy, low-gravity conditions that were present during formation of the early solar system. Scientists plan to zap a specially formulated dust with an electrical current, and then study the shape and texture of the resulting pellets.

The Crystallization of LRRK2 Under Microgravity Conditions-2 (PCG-16) investigation grows large crystals of an important protein, leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2), in microgravity for analysis back on Earth. This protein is implicated in development of Parkinson’s disease, and improving our knowledge of its structure may help scientists better understand the pathology of the disease and develop therapies to treat it. LRRK2 crystals grown in gravity are too small and too compact to study, making microgravity an essential part of this research.  This investigation is sponsored by the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, which Congress designated in 2005 to maximize its use for improving quality of life on Earth.

Cygnus launched Nov. 17, 2018, on an Antares 230 rocket from Virginia Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A at Wallops, and arrived at the station Nov. 19 for the company’s 10th NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission to the station.

This was the seventh flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft, and the fourth using Northrop Grumman’s upgraded Antares 230 launch vehicle featuring new RD-181 engines that provide increased performance and flexibility.

Cygnus Ready for Friday Departure and CubeSat Deployments

The Cygnus space freighter
The Cygnus space freighter is maneuvered by the Canadarm2 robotic arm shortly after its arrival and capture at the International Space Station on Nov. 19, 2018.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter is just a day away from completing its tenth mission to the International Space Station. The Expedition 58 crew is training today for Cygnus’ robotic release on Friday and preparing it for one more mission afterward.

Cygnus is in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm today still attached to the Unity module. Robotics controllers will uninstall Cygnus from Unity early Friday and remotely maneuver the space freighter to its release position.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain will take over the robotics controls as David Saint-Jacques from the Canadian Space Agency backs her up inside the cupola. She will command the Canadarm2 to release Cygnus back into space at 11:10 a.m. EST Friday. NASA TV will begin its live coverage of Cygnus’ release starting at 10:45 a.m.

The two astronauts practiced the release of Cygnus today and finished the installation of the Slingshot small satellite deployer inside the spacecraft. Slingshot will eject a set of CubeSats from Cygnus once the cargo vessel reaches a safe distance from the station about eight hours after its release.

Friday’s Cygnus departure will leave a pair of Russian spacecraft docked to the station including the Progress 71 cargo craft and the Soyuz MS-11 crew ship. Two more spaceships are due to visit in March including a demonstration version of SpaceX’s first crew Dragon and the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft with three new Expedition 59-60 crew members.

Mind and Body Studies as Crew Finalizes Cygnus Packing

Astronaut Anne McClain of NASA
Astronaut Anne McClain of NASA peers into a microscope and takes photographs for the Protein Crystal Growth-16 experiment that is exploring therapies for Parkinson’s disease.

The astronauts onboard the International Space Station continued exploring today how living in space affects their minds and bodies. The Expedition 58 crew also researched fluid physics and prepared a resupply ship for its departure.

Anne McClain of NASA collected blood and urine samples this morning for the Repository physiology study. She spun the samples in a centrifuge then stowed them in a science freezer. She later took a cognition test in support of the Lighting Effects experiment that seeks to improve health and wellness.

Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques along with McClain answered a pair of questionnaires in support of the Standard Measures and Behavioral Core Measures psychology studies. He also wrapped up a physics study observing the mechanics of fluids in hardware that represents a spacecraft fuel tank.

McClain will be in the cupola Friday at 11:10 a.m. EST and release the U.S. Cygnus resupply ship from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Saint-Jacques will back her up Friday and monitor the cargo vessel’s departure. The duo is finalizing packing, will install a small satellite deployer in Cygnus then close the hatches on Thursday.

Over in the station’s Russian segment, Commander Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos worked on power supply and battery maintenance in the Zarya module. The long-serving cosmonaut also researched crew psychology and studied radiation exposure.

Human, Physics Research as U.S. Spaceship Preps for Departure

Anne McClain of NASA
Anne McClain of NASA looks at a laptop computer screen inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module during ground conference operations.

The Expedition 58 crew participated in a suite of psychological, biomedical and physics experiments today. The orbital residents are also getting ready to send off a U.S. cargo craft on Friday.

Astronauts Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques collaborated today on an experiment that observes how living in a spacecraft for long periods impacts crew behavior. The duo typed personal impressions about working in space in a private journal then took a robotics test to measure cognition. The astronauts also answered a questionnaire to gather more cognitive data before going to sleep.

McClain also collected and stored biological samples for a pair of human research studies looking at physiological changes and negative effects on bone marrow and blood cells. Saint-Jacques looked at how fluid mechanics affects fuel tanks in spaceships and ocean systems on Earth.

Commander Oleg Kononenko focused his day inside the station’s Russian segment. The veteran cosmonaut worked on computers, maintained life support systems and photographed Earth landmarks today.

Friday at 11:10 a.m. EST, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter will depart the station after 81 days attached to the Unity module. Robotics controllers will remotely guide the Canadarm2 robotic arm to grapple Cygnus overnight. McClain will then command the Canadarm2 on Friday to release Cygnus back into Earth orbit as Saint-Jacques backs her up and monitors the activities.

Cygnus has more to do after its release. It will begin to deploy several sets of CubeSats after it reaches a safe distance from the space station. The U.S. resupply ship will then reenter Earth’s atmosphere in late February over a remote portion of the Pacific Ocean for a fiery but safe destruction.

Crew Wraps Up Biomedical Studies; Films Station in Virtual Reality

Astronaut Anne McClain is pictured wearing a sensor on her forehead
Astronaut Anne McClain is pictured wearing a sensor on her forehead that is collecting data to determine how an astronaut’s “biological clock” changes during long-duration spaceflight. Image Credit: NASA

A pair of biomedical experiments are wrapping up today aboard the International Space Station as the Expedition 58 crew began its weekend. The orbital residents are also filming a virtual reality (VR) experience and working on plumbing and life support hardware.

Anne McClain of NASA removed sensors from her head and chest this morning that collected data about her circadian rhythm, or “biological clock,” and how it is adapting off Earth. Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques stowed the wearable Bio-Monitor hardware that monitors an astronaut’s vital signs during normal activities with minimum interference.

McClain then set up a VR camera to film a first-person’s view aboard the orbital lab in an immersive, cinematic experience. She finished the workday with Saint-Jacques on orbital plumbing work in the Tranquility module.

The Combustion Integrated Rack received more attention today as Saint-Jacques replaced hardware in the fuel and flame research platform. He also assisted McClain with the VR camera installation, set up audio equipment and filmed an introduction.

Commander Oleg Kononenko also up video gear today in Japan’s Kibo lab module and held a conference with Russian students and educators. The veteran cosmonaut then spent part of the afternoon conducting maintenance on life support equipment in the station’s Russian segment.