NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced today the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to extend International Space Station (ISS) operations through 2030, and to work with our international partners in Europe (ESA, European Space Agency), Japan (JAXA, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), Canada (CSA, Canadian Space Agency), and Russia (State Space Corporation Roscosmos) to enable continuation of the groundbreaking research being conducted in this unique orbiting laboratory through the rest of this decade.
“The International Space Station is a beacon of peaceful international scientific collaboration and for more than 20 years has returned enormous scientific, educational, and technological developments to benefit humanity. I’m pleased that the Biden-Harris Administration has committed to continuing station operations through 2030,” Nelson said. “The United States’ continued participation on the ISS will enhance innovation and competitiveness, as well as advance the research and technology necessary to send the first woman and first person of color to the Moon under NASA’s Artemis program and pave the way for sending the first humans to Mars. As more and more nations are active in space, it’s more important than ever that the United States continues to lead the world in growing international alliances and modeling rules and norms for the peaceful and responsible use of space.”
Over the past two decades, the United States has maintained a continuous human presence in orbit around the Earth to test technologies, conduct scientific research, and develop skills needed to explore farther than ever before. The unique microgravity laboratory has hosted more than 3,000 research investigations from over 4,200 researchers across the world and is returning enormous scientific, educational, and technological developments to benefit people on Earth. Nearly 110 countries and areas have participated in activities aboard the station, including more than 1,500,000 students per year in STEM activities.
Instruments aboard the ISS, used in concert with free-flying instruments in other orbits, help us measure the stresses of drought and the health of forests to enable improved understanding of the interaction of carbon and climate at different time scales. Operating these and other climate-related instruments through the end of the decade will greatly increase our understanding of the climate cycle.
Extending operations through 2030 will continue another productive decade of research advancement and enable a seamless transition of capabilities in low-Earth orbit to one or more commercially owned and operated destinations in the late 2020s. The decision to extend operations and NASA’s recent awards to develop commercial space stations together ensure uninterrupted, continuous human presence and capabilities; both are critical facets of NASA’s International Space Station transition plan.
The astronauts and cosmonauts of Expedition 66 worked throughout Wednesday on U.S. and Russian spacesuits. The orbital residents will also end 2021 working on life science and cargo operations aboard the International Space Station.
Among the 6,500 pounds of cargo delivered aboard the SpaceX Cargo Dragon on Dec. 22 were a U.S. spacesuit and other spacewalking gear. NASA Flight Engineers Kayla Barron and Thomas Marshburn removed the new spacesuit from Dragon on Wednesday then installed communications gear and configured it. The duo also packed an older U.S. spacesuit inside the Cargo Dragon for return to Earth in January. The next U.S. spacewalk is targeted for spring when two astronauts will install a third set of roll-out solar arrays on the orbiting lab.
Russian spacewalks are also planned at the station in 2022 to outfit the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module that arrived in July. Cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov began reviewing procedures today for the upcoming excursions when they will configure Nauka to operate with the rest of the space station. The pair from Roscosmos also started organizing Russian Orlan spacesuit components and spacewalking tools.
The last days of 2021 will see the station crew move headlong into a variety of space biology research. The astronauts have already begun initiating some of the nearly 2,500 pounds of science experiments and research gear delivered in Dragon. Barron and Marshburn will start observing mice on Thursday to understand how microgravity affects the visual function. ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer has already started the new Cytoskeleton experiment and will work on it the rest of the week to study how the human cell adapts to weightlessness.
Orbital maintenance is critical to ensure ongoing and safe station operations. NASA Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Raja Chari will focus on that work the rest of the week. Vande Hei will be configuring different research hardware while also assisting the cosmonauts with their Russian spacesuit work. Chari will spend the next few days unpacking the Cargo Dragon and work on station life support and plumbing tasks.
The space station blog is taking a short break until Monday, Jan. 3, as the station’s five astronauts and two cosmonauts orbit Earth into the New Year.
The Expedition 66 crew members continue unpacking the SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle and initiating brand new microgravity investigations. Some of the new science taking place aboard the International Space Station today is looking at plant genetics, human cellular function, and even space laundry techniques.
The four NASA astronauts living on the orbital lab took turns on Tuesday offloading some of the 6,500 pounds of new crew supplies, station hardware, and science experiments. Flight Engineer Kayla Barron began her morning working inside the Cargo Dragon. She then serviced samples inside the Electrostatic Levitation Furnace, a research device that observes the thermophysical properties of high temperature materials.
Astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Thomas Marshburn and Raja Chari got together on Tuesday afternoon to unpack the Cargo Dragon as well. Vande Hei and Marshburn have also begun work on a pair of new experiments exploring how to improve life in space. Vande Hei is testing detergent samples to learn how to keep clothes clean in a variety of gravity environments during long-term space missions. Marshburn set up the Veggie botany research facility for observing plant growth at the genetic level to promote space agriculture. Chari collected and spun his blood samples in a centrifuge then stowed them for later analysis. Afterward, Chari entered the Columbus laboratory module and began organizing cargo packed inside.
Flight Engineer Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) collected research hardware from inside Columbus for a space biology investigation. He then began assembling that gear and thawing culture chambers inside the Kibo laboratory module. The work is for the new Cytoskeleton biology study, taking place in the Life Science Glovebox, and will explore how the machinery of the human cell is impacted by weightlessness.
Cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, along with Vande Hei, started their day practicing emergency evacuation procedures. The trio trained on a computer for the procedures they would use in the unlikely event they would have to quickly board the Soyuz MS-19 crew ship, undock and return to Earth. Shkaplerov then unpacked Russian spacewalk gear delivered recently aboard the Prichal docking module. Dubrov focused on electronics and hardware maintenance for the rest of the day.
NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn started Monday morning transferring research samples to science freezers in the Kibo lab. Chari then moved on and updated emergency checklists while also collecting and stowing his blood and urine samples for later analysis. Marshburn serviced the station’s oxygen generation system then unpacked medical gear from the SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle.
Flight Engineer Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) spent his day working throughout the orbiting lab on a variety of research gear. Maurer first swapped science freezers inside the Unity module. Next, he installed the BioSentinel radiation exposure study in the Kibo lab. Finally, the astronaut from Germany worked in the Columbus laboratory module thawing research samples for the Cytoskeleton experiment before uninstalling the Kubik incubator.
The station’s commander, Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, recharged computer tablets inside the Soyuz MS-19 crew ship while also working on Russian life support maintenance throughout the day. Russian Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov checked out electronics gear in the morning before joining Shkaplerov in the afternoon and replacing components on the Zvezda service module’s treadmill.
A modified Russian Progress propulsion compartment used to deliver the five-ton Prichal docking module to the International Space Station successfully undocked from the Prichal module at 6:03 p.m. EST.
The spacecraft arrived and docked to the Nauka module on the Earth-facing side of the Russian segment Friday, Nov. 26, two days after lifting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Wednesday, Nov. 24. Prichal, named for the Russian word for “pier,” has five available docking ports to accommodate multiple Russian spacecraft and provide fuel transfer capability to the Nauka module. Named for the Russian word for “science,” Nauka launched to the space station in July.
The Progress instrument assembly compartment will back away from the space station, and a few hours later, Progress’ engines will fire in a deorbit maneuver to send the cargo craft into a destructive re-entry in the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. Deorbit and re-entry will not be covered on NASA TV.
The space station blog is taking a short break until Monday, Dec. 27, as the station’s five astronauts and two cosmonauts spend the holidays orbiting above Earth.
The SpaceX Cargo Dragon arrived just in time to deliver holiday treats, crew supplies and new science experiments to the Expedition 66 crew today. NASA Flight Engineers Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn were on duty Wednesday morning monitoring Dragon’s automated approach and docking to the Harmony module’s space-facing port that occurred at 3:41 a.m. EST.
Less than two hours later, Dragon’s hatch was opened as Chari and NASA Flight Engineer Kayla Barron entered the vehicle and began unloading critical research hardware and samples.
Astronauts Mark Vande Hei of NASA and Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) also joined in the cargo activities beginning to unpack crew supplies, spacewalk gear, station hardware, and computer equipment to replenish the orbiting lab. Vande Hei also started setting up a new cancer study, delivered aboard Dragon, that could improve drug delivery methods as well as manufacturing processes. Dragon will stay at the station for one month before returning to Earth loaded with station hardware and completed microgravity research for analysis by engineers and scientists.
Over in the station’s Russian segment, the Progress propulsion module that delivered the Prichal docking port and attached it to the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module on Nov. 26 is due to leave today. It will undock from Prichal at 6:03 p.m. and reenter the Earth’s atmosphere several hours later for a fiery, but safe destruction above the south Pacific Ocean. Cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov will be observing the Progress when it undocks and photographing its departure from the station. NASA TV will not provide live coverage of Progress’ departure.
The space station blog is taking a short break until Monday, Dec. 27, as the station’s five astronauts and two cosmonauts spend the holidays orbiting above Earth.
While the International Space Station was traveling more than 260 miles over the South Pacific Ocean, a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft autonomously docked to the space-facing side of the orbiting laboratory’s Harmony module at 3:41 a.m. EST, Wednesday, Dec. 22. NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn were monitoring docking operations for Dragon.
The Dragon launched on SpaceX’s 24th contracted commercial resupply mission at 5:07 a.m. EST, Tuesday, Dec. 21 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After Dragon spends about one month attached to the space station, the spacecraft will return to Earth with cargo and research.
Among the science experiments Dragon is delivering to the space station are:
Bioprinting uses viable cells and biological molecules to print tissue structures. The German Aerospace Center study Bioprint FirstAid demonstrates a portable, handheld bioprinter that uses a patient’s own skin cells to create a tissue-forming patch to cover a wound and accelerate the healing process. On future missions to the Moon and Mars, bioprinting such customized patches could help address changes in wound healing that can occur in space and complicate treatment. Personalized healing patches also have potential benefits on Earth, providing safer and more flexible treatment anywhere needed.
Improving delivery of cancer drugs
Monoclonal antibodies, used to treat a wide range of human diseases, do not dissolve easily in liquid and so typically must be given intravenously in a clinical setting. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space Protein Crystal Growth 20 (CASIS PCG 20) experiment continues work on crystallizing a monoclonal antibody, pembrolizumab, that Merck Research Labs developed. It is the active ingredient in Keytruda, a drug that targets multiple cancers. Scientists analyze these crystals to learn more about the structure and behavior of the component to create drug formulations that can be administered at a doctor’s office or even at home.
Assessing infection risk
Scientists have observed that spaceflight sometimes increases the virulence of potentially harmful microbes and reduces human immune function, increasing the risk for infectious disease. Host-Pathogen assesses space-induced changes in immune status by culturing cells collected from crew members before, during, and after spaceflight with both “normal” bacteria and bacteria grown under simulated spaceflight conditions. Results could help assess the potential risk infectious microbes may pose and may support development of countermeasures. This could improve care for those with compromised immune systems on Earth.
Roots, shoots, and leaves
Multi Variable Platform (MVP) Plant-01 profiles and monitors the development of the shoots and roots of plants in microgravity. Plants could serve as a vital part of human life support systems for long-duration spaceflight and habitation of the Moon and Mars. However, space-grown plants experience stress from various factors and recent studies indicate changes in plant gene expression in response to those stressors. Improved understanding of these changes could enable the design of plants that are better suited for growth in spaceflight environments.
Toward lunar laundromats
Astronauts on the space station wear items of clothing several times, then replace them with new clothes delivered on resupply missions. Limited cargo capacity makes this a challenge, and resupply is not an option for longer missions, such as those to the Moon and Mars. In a collaboration with NASA, Procter & Gamble has developed Tide Infinity, a fully degradable detergent specifically designed for use in space, and the P&G Telescience Investigation of Detergent Experiments (PGTIDE) study the performance of its stain removal ingredients and the formulation’s stability in microgravity. Once proven in space, Tide plans to use the new cleaning methods and detergent to advance sustainable, low-resource-use laundry solutions on Earth.
Parts made in space Turbine Superalloy Casting Module (SCM) tests a commercial manufacturing device that processes heat-resistant alloy parts in microgravity. Alloys are materials made up of at least two different chemical elements, one of which is a metal. Researchers expect more uniform microstructures and improved mechanical properties in superalloy parts processed in microgravity compared to those processed on Earth. These superior materials could improve the performance of turbine engines in industries such as aerospace and power generation on Earth.
Students and citizens as space scientists
Students enrolled in institutions of higher learning can design and build microgravity experiments as part of NASA’s Student Payload Opportunity with Citizen Science (SPOCS). As part of their experiments, selected teams include students in kindergarten through 12th grade as citizen scientists. Citizen science allows individuals who are not professional scientists to contribute to real-world research. The NASA STEM on Station project is funding experiments flying on this SpaceX resupply mission, including a study on antibiotic resistance in microgravity from Columbia University in New York and one on how microgravity affects bacteria-resistant polymers from the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho.
These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations currently being conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory in the areas of biology and biotechnology, physical sciences, and Earth and space science. Advances in these areas will help keep astronauts healthy during NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon and long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars.
SpaceX has rolled out its Falcon 9 rocket with the Cargo Dragon vehicle attached to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Falcon 9 is due to lift off at 5:06 a.m. EST on Tuesday placing the Cargo Dragon into orbit for a docking at the International Space Station at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
The orbiting lab has returned to its occupancy rate of seven crew members after three visitors departed and returned to Earth on Sunday. Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin led spaceflight participants Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano inside the Soyuz MS-20 crew ship when they undocked from the Poisk module at 6:50 p.m. EST. The trio aboard the Soyuz parachuted to landing in Kazakhstan less than three-and-a-half hours later completing an 11-day station mission.
Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin along with spaceflight participants Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano landed on Earth around 10:13 p.m. EST Sunday, Dec. 19 in Kazakhstan (around 9:13 a.m. Monday, Dec. 20, Kazakhstan time). The trio departed the International Space Station in their Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft at 6:50 p.m. Misurkin, now a three-time space visitor, commanded the Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft, which launched the visitors to the space station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Dec. 8.
Earlier this month, the International Space Station surpassed its 21-year milestone of continuous human presence, providing opportunities for unique research and technological demonstrations that help prepare for long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars and also improve life on Earth. During that time, 251 people from 19 countries have visited the orbiting laboratory, which has hosted nearly 3,000 research investigations from researchers in 108 countries and areas.
NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app are now broadcasting live coverage of the return to Earth of a veteran Russian cosmonaut and two Japanese private citizens.
The Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft carrying Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin will join spaceflight participants Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano will make its deorbit burn at 9:18 p.m. EST to set the spaceship on its re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere for a landing in Kazakhstan at 10:13 p.m. EST Sunday, Dec. 19. (9:13 a.m. Monday, Dec. 20, Kazakhstan time).