Worm Observations, Eye Checks as Weekend Spacewalk Approaches

The Last Quarter Moon is pictured above the Earth's horizon as the station orbited over the Indian Ocean.
The Last Quarter Moon is pictured above the Earth’s horizon as the station orbited over the Indian Ocean.

The Expedition 64 crew had a busy science day observing worms, readying small satellites for deployment, and conducting vision tests. Two astronauts are also pressing ahead with preparations for the third spacewalk in two weeks at the International Space Station.

Tiny worms were launched to the orbiting lab in February to study how weightlessness affects genetic expression in muscles. Today, NASA Flight Engineer Shannon Walker loaded cassette samples containing the live worms into a microscope for viewing. Next, NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins recorded microscopic video of the worm activities to understand the effects of spaceflight on muscles. Observations may lead to ways to maintain and improve muscle health for humans on and off the Earth.

Soon, a set of small satellites will be deployed outside of the Japanese Kibo laboratory module. JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Soichi Noguchi loaded the tiny satellites, also called CubeSats, in a deployer that will be placed inside Kibo’s airlock. The airlock will be closed and depressurized before the Japanese robotic arm grabs the deployer and stages it in position where the CubeSats will be ejected into orbit a few days later.

It has been a busy period for spacewalks at the station as two astronauts gear up for another excursion to maintain cooling system and communications gear. Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins of NASA readied their spacewalk tools and safety tethers in the U.S. Quest airlock where their spacesuits are already located. Afterward, they were joined by Rubins and Noguchi, who will assist the spacewalkers this weekend, for procedure reviews. NASA TV will go on the air Saturday at 6 a.m. EST to broadcast the spacewalk set to begin at 7:30 a.m.

Vision is critical to mission success and researchers are continuously studying how microgravity affects the human eye. Cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov partnered together Thursday afternoon reading an eye chart as part of regularly scheduled eye checks. Some crew members have documented eye pressure and vision issues after living in space for months at a time.

Mission controllers in Houston commanded the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release an external pallet loaded with old nickel-hydrogen batteries into Earth orbit on Thursday morning. It is safely moving away from the station and will orbit Earth between two to four years before burning up harmlessly in the atmosphere.

Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov have completed the work to repair small cracks in the transfer compartment of the Russian Zvezda service module. The repairs were part of ongoing work to isolate and fix the source of a slight cabin air leak which is an increase above the standard rate that station teams have been investigating over the past year. At the current rate, the crew is in no danger, and the space station has ample consumables aboard to manage and maintain the nominal environment.

In the coming days, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov will close the hatches to the transfer compartment to enable Russian flight controllers to conduct pressure level checks to analyze the results of the sealing procedures.

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