Crew Packs Cargo Dragon With Science, Begins Spacewalk Preps

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins loads engineered heart tissue samples into a science freezer for preservation and later analysis.
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins loads engineered heart tissue samples into a science freezer for preservation and later analysis.

The Expedition 64 crew is going into the weekend packing the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship and readying it for a Monday morning undocking from the International Space Station. The orbital residents are also turning their attention to a pair of spacewalks taking place before the end of January.

A month after its arrival and delivery of a suite of vital space science investigations, the Dragon will return the research back to Earth for analysis on Monday. The astronauts will be loading gear and samples from those studies, as well as a variety of station hardware, into Dragon this weekend before closing its hatch a few hours before undocking.

The astronauts are transferring rodents inside specialized habitats into Dragon including an array of biological and microbial samples stowed in science freezers. Scientists on Earth will examine the mice for insights into advanced therapies to treat space-caused vision and bone conditions. Heart tissue samples and microbes will be also looked at, among other samples, to learn how to keep astronauts healthy and spacecraft clean and safe.

NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins will be monitoring Dragon when it undocks Monday at 9:25 a.m. EST. from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. The upgraded space freighter is planned to splash down several hours later in the Atlantic Ocean, a first for a commercial cargo spacecraft. NASA and SpaceX personnel will be on hand to retrieve the cargo craft. NASA TV will broadcast Dragon’s undocking and separation live on NASA TV beginning at 9 a.m.

Following a busy holiday season of space research, the crew now turns its attention to spacewalks planned for January 19 and 25. Veteran spacewalker Michael Hopkins will conduct both spacewalks with Flight Engineer Victor Glover. They will outfit science hardware on Europe’s Columbus laboratory module during the first spacewalk then upgrade high definition video and camera gear on the second.

The pair were joined today by Rubins and JAXA Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi for spacewalk procedure reviews and a conference with spacewalk specialists on the ground. Hopkins and Glover also began configuring and organizing their spacewalking tools. Rubins and Noguchi will assist the astronauts in and out of their spacesuits and the Quest airlock before and after both spacewalks.

Crew Relaxing Ahead of Cargo Dragon Departure and Spacewalks

The International Space Station flies into an orbital sunrise 264 miles above the North Pacific off the coast of Russia.
The space station flies into an orbital sunrise 264 miles above the North Pacific.

The Expedition 64 crew had a light duty day Thursday following a busy holiday season filled with space research and U.S. cargo ship departure preparations. Soon the astronauts will be ramping up for a set of International Space Station maintenance and upgrades spacewalks planned for January and February.

Final science experiments are wrapping up this week waiting to be packed inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft and returned to Earth no earlier than Monday for analysis. NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins stowed microbial cultures in science freezers today that will soon be loaded inside the Cargo Dragon. The samples will be analyzed by scientists on the ground to understand the microbial risk to a spacecraft’s environment.

The Dragon is due to undock from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter on Monday at 9:25 a.m. EST live on NASA TV. Rubins will be on duty Monday monitoring Dragon’s undocking as it departs the station carrying several tons of hardware and completed space studies. NASA and SpaceX engineers will be on hand to retrieve the Dragon after its splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

A pair of spacewalks is targeted for the end of January for upgrades on the outside of the orbiting lab. U.S. astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover will be ramping up their preparations for the two spacewalks over the next several days. The duo will be outfitting science hardware on Europe’s Columbus laboratory module during the first spacewalk and will upgrade high definition video and camera gear on the second.

Two more spacewalks are planned in February for electrical work and to set up experimental hardware for a technology demonstration.

U.S. Cygnus Cargo Craft Ready for Wednesday Departure

The seven-member Expedition 64 crew gathers together for a New Year's Day portrait inside the International Space Station's "window to the world," the cupola.
The seven-member Expedition 64 crew gathers together for a New Year’s Day portrait inside the International Space Station’s “window to the world,” the cupola.

The U.S. Cygnus space freighter has been packed and is “go” for its departure from the International Space Station on Wednesday morning. The Expedition 64 crew is also wrapping up variety of science experiments and loading a second U.S. cargo craft for its return to Earth next week.

NASA Flight Engineer Victor Glover closed the hatch to Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus resupply ship attached to the Unity module on Tuesday afternoon. He will be on duty Wednesday morning monitoring Cygnus when mission controllers remotely command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release it into space at 10:10 a.m. EST. NASA TV begins its live coverage of Cygnus’ departure at 9:45 a.m.

Cygnus will orbit Earth on its own until Jan. 26 for a series of flight tests and automated science experiments before deorbiting above the Pacific Ocean for a fiery, but safe destruction. Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins of NASA readied one of those experiments today, the Saffire-V spacecraft fire study, just before hatch closure. That investigation will set a controlled fire inside Cygnus once it reaches a safe distance from the station to explore fire safety in confined spaces such as a spacecraft.

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon is next on the departure schedule with its undocking set for Jan. 11 at 9:25 a.m. The Cargo Dragon will parachute to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean just a few hours after its separation from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter.

NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins is winding down several studies and readying the results for return to Earth next week inside the upgraded U.S. resupply ship. Rubins worked on the Cardinal Heart investigation that observes engineered heart tissue samples to understand the aging and weakening of heart muscles that astronauts experience in space. Next, she inoculated cultures of microbes for a study exploring the microbial risk to a spacecraft’s environment.

Astronauts Shannon Walker of NASA and Soichi Noguchi of JAXA worked on cargo transfers inside the Cargo Dragon throughout Tuesday. Walker also tended to rodents that will be returned to Earth next week and analyzed to better understand space-caused bone conditions.

Commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos participated in a space exercise study before cleaning the ventilation system in the Zarya module. His fellow cosmonaut Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov participated in the same workout investigation then moved onto Russian communication and plumbing tasks.

New Year Brings Space Biology and U.S. Cargo Ship Departures

The Cygnus space freighter and SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship are being readied for departure on Jan. 6 and 11.

The seven-member Expedition 64 crew relaxed on New Year’s Day and went into the first weekend of 2021 researching space biology. The International Space Station residents are also packing a pair of U.S. resupply ships for departure this week and next.

Three astronauts spent Saturday and Sunday studying how microgravity affects vision and bone tissue in rodents. Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover of NASA spent the weekend observing several dozen mice to help scientists prevent vision and bone conditions that astronauts experience while living in space. JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi assisted the duo during the two life science experiments.

A different pair of biology studies is exploring how weightlessness impacts potential treatments for Earth and space-caused conditions. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins spent Sunday peering through a microscope at protein crystals which are much higher quality than those produced on Earth. Results from that experiment could inform ways to commercialize the development of cancer therapies in space. She also looked at engineered heart tissues to gain insights into aging and weakening heart muscles that humans experience on and off the Earth.

NASA astronaut Shannon Walker spent the weekend readying the Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter and the SpaceX Cargo Dragon for their upcoming departures. Cygnus will be completing a 93-day stay and the Cargo Dragon a 35-day stay at the orbiting lab.

Rubins will monitor Cygnus’ departure first on Jan. 6 after mission controllers on the ground command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to remove it from the Unity module then release it into Earth orbit. Cygnus will orbit Earth on its own until Jan. 26 for flight tests and remotely controlled science experiments.

The Cargo Dragon will be loaded with samples from this weekend’s experiments and more, including space station hardware, for return to Earth on Jan. 11. Glover will monitor the first undocking of the Cargo Dragon from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. This will also be Dragon’s first planned splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.