On top of the world

Mark Vande Hei exercises
View of Mark Vande Hei, Expedition 53 flight engineer, exercising on the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT) T2 aboard the space station. Image Credit: NASA

When you’re on top of the world—or orbiting it—there’s no better place to be. NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) had a late night yesterday, staying up to watch a special uplink from Mission Control: Game 7 of the World Series. The winning outcome was cause for celebration, as the Astros have many fans at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, which is home base for the astronauts.

Today, the crew worked to size up the exercise equipment they rely on to sustain muscle mass and prevent bone loss while living and working in space. They set up cameras in Node 3 to capture video from multiple angles of the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) and Miniature Exercise Device (MED-2) hardware, applied body markers, performed exercises and transferred the video for delivery to Mission Control. Aboard ISS, the exercise equipment is large and bulky, which is OK because the orbiting laboratory is about the size of a three-bedroom house. But, for Mars or other destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, available space will be difficult to come by. MED-2 aims to demonstrate that small robotic actuators can provide the same quality motion and resistance for crew workout sessions, thus reducing the size and weight of exercise devices for space missions farther out and lengthier in duration. Evaluating MED-2’s game-changing technology is crucial to the design and development of second- and third-generation hardware that is much lighter, smaller and more reliable than what is used now.

An Expedition 53 crew member read “Notable Notebooks Scientists and Their Writings Read” on camera for Story Time from Space. These recordings are downlinked and then used in schools, combining science literacy with simple concept experiments that children can follow along with on the ground. The videos are posted in a library with accompanying educational materials, further promoting science, technology, engineering and math to budding scientists, engineers and explorers.

The station’s altitude was raised last night during a three minute, 26-second firing of the ISS Progress 67 thrusters. The reboost of the complex was the first of two such maneuvers this month to set up the correct trajectory for the landing of the Expedition 53 crew on Dec. 14 in south central Kazakhstan and the launch, three days later, of the Expedition 54-55 crew from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Station Crew Continues Prep for Eighth Orbital ATK Launch

Cygnus
Cygnus is an autonomous cargo vehicle that provides commercial cargo resupply services to the International Space Station. Its next launch is targeted for Nov. 11. Image Credit: NASA

Routine—and not-so-routine—housekeeping duties continue for Expedition 53 aboard the International Space Station in preparation for an upcoming Orbital ATK 8 (OA-8) commercial launch targeted for Nov. 11.

The crewmates prepared the Permanent Multipurpose Module rack fronts to accept cargo by moving smaller items off and staging them for disposal. During OA-8 cargo operations, the items marked for disposal will be swapped with new cargo arriving aboard OA-8.

During Orbital ATK’s eighth Cygnus resupply mission, the cargo craft will make a nine-minute ascent to space and then begin a two-day trek to the space station. Upon arrival, it will captured by Canadarm2 and installed for a month-long stay. Tonight, ground teams will reboost the station using the thrusters on Progress 67, which will put it at the proper altitude to meet up with Cygnus.

The crew also spent part of the workday photo documenting their uncommon “home life” aboard the orbiting laboratory for the Canadian Space Agency study called At Home in Space. This investigation assesses the culture, values and psychosocial adaptation of astronauts to a space environment shared by multinational crews during long mission timeframes. Questionnaires answered by the crew will help answer if astronauts develop a unique, shared space culture as an adaptive strategy for handling the cultural differences they encounter in their isolated and confined environment by creating a home in space.

For Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA, their day was punctuated by an educational downlink with students from Shaker Heights High School in Cleveland, Ohio. The students were immersed in the science and technology studies being executed daily approximately 240 miles above Earth.

Station Crew Remains Rooted in Science as the Week Kicks Off

Veggie Harvest
Charles Spern, project manager on the Engineering Services Contract, communicates instructions for the Veggie system to astronaut Joe Acaba aboard the space station. Image Credit: NASA/Amanda Griffin

The Expedition 53 crew capped off last week’s investigations with fresh pickings of lettuce, cabbage and mizuna harvested from the Veg-03 investigation. There’s still some left, though, for the remainder of the vegetation will be allowed to grow and sprout new leaves. Since future long-duration explorers will expected to grow their own food to survive the harsh environment of space and Mars, understanding how plants respond to microgravity is an important component to a robust astronaut food system.

Plants are still on the table for the crew, so to speak, as the week kicks off. Following last week’s successful assembly and installation of the Advanced Plant Plant Habitat facility into the EXpedite the PRocessing of Experiments to Space Station (EXPRESS) Rack 5 (ER5), today the crew moved the Space Acceleration Measurement System (SAMS) Sensor Enclosure to ER5. The automated plant habitat facility will be used to conduct plant bioscience research aboard the International Space Station by providing a large, enclosed, environmentally controlled chamber.

The crewmates also set up the payload components for EarthKAM in Node 2 for a weeklong imaging session. Sally Ride EarthKAM allows thousands of students worldwide to photograph and examine Earth from a space crew’s perspective. Using the Internet, the students control a special digital camera mounted on the space station to photograph coastlines, mountain ranges and other geographic items of interest from the incomparable viewpoint of space. Later, the varied topographies are shared online for the public and participating classrooms to observe.

Around noon EDT, Station Commander Randy Bresnik and Flight Engineer Joe Acaba of NASA shared insights about living and working aboard the nation’s most unique U.S. National Laboratory with students from Santa Monica High School in Santa Monica, California.

Pope Francis and Expedition 53 Crew Exchange Thoughts About Humanity’s Deepest and Oldest Questions

Pope Francis calls ISS
On a screen at right in NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston, Pope Francis speaks to the crew aboard the International Space Station on Oct. 26. Image Credit: NASA

In the middle of a workday where the Expedition 53 crew performed a routine emergency drill and additional ocular ultrasounds to map any eye changes, there was, most certainly, a higher (phone) call that actually came from more than 200 miles below the International Space Station at the Vatican: Pope Francis phoned in.

It was no ordinary ESA (European Space Agency) in-flight event. Though the Pope did ask the requisite question—what motivated them to become astronauts/cosmonauts—the conference delved quickly into deeper topics, like the crew’s thoughts of humankind’s place in the universe. Each crew member took turns speaking to Pope Francis through ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli of Italy, who translated.

Nespoli indicated that while he remains perplexed at humankind’s role, he feels their main objective is enriching the knowledge around us. The more we know, the more we realize we don’t. Part of space station’s ultimate mission is filling in those gaps and revealing the mysteries locked away in the cosmos.

Cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky of Roscosmos told the Pope that it was an honor to continue his grandfather’s legacy aboard the orbiting laboratory. Ryazansky’s grandfather was a chief engineer of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite to launch to space. Ryazansky said he is now part of the future of humanity, helping to open frontiers of new technology.

Commander Randy Bresnik of NASA spoke candidly to Pope Francis, saying that one cannot serve aboard the space station and not be touched to their soul. From Bresnik’s unique vantage orbiting Earth, it is obvious there are no borders. Also evident: a fragile band of atmosphere protecting billions of people below.

Pope Francis said that while society is individualistic, we need collaboration—and there is no better example of international teamwork and cohesiveness than the space station. It is the ultimate human experiment, showing that people from diverse backgrounds can band together to solve some of the most daunting problems facing the world.

“The totality is greater than the sum of its parts,” Pope Francis observed.

At the end of the call, the Pope thanked his new friends, offered his blessings and asked that they, too, pray for him in return.

Expedition 53 Inspires the Next Generation, Learns More About How the Human Body Responds to Space

Commander Randy Bresnik
Commander Randy Bresnik addresses students in Kiev, Ukraine, during an in-flight event Oct. 25. Image Credit: NASA TV

Mid-week, the crew of Expedition 53 completed tasks to investigate the various ways microgravity affects the human body and shared the benefits of the International Space Station with students in Kiev, Ukraine, during a Public Affairs in-flight event.

At 11 a.m. EDT, Commander Randy Bresnik of NASA spoke with U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch live on NASA TV, and she moderated questions from Ukrainian and U.S. Embassy students eager to hear more on what it takes to be an astronaut aboard the orbiting laboratory. Bresnik spoke of his extensive training regimen before embarking on his mission, but reiterated that working together cohesively with a team and getting along with others ranked at the top of needed skills for an explorer. Bresnik also touted fellow crewmate Flight Engineer Joe Acaba of NASA’s upcoming project on Friday: harvesting lettuce (five kinds, no less) that has been growing in space. He reminded the students that seeds may be a key component to deep space missions due to their small space requirements, making them perfect for packing into a compact spacecraft. Growing food is also the most sustainable option for crews hoping to live on the Red Planet for an extended period of time. Before closing out the event, Bresnik told the students to always nurture their thirst for knowledge, as it’s a trait that can be found among all astronauts and cosmonauts.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Paolo Nespoli took part in Day 2 of the 11-day study for Astronaut’s Energy Requirements for Long-Term Space Flight (Energy), an investigation zeroing in on the side effects of space travel. Today, he collected water samples from the station, continued with urine collection and stowed the deployed Pulmonary Function System equipment. The crew, as a whole, logged their food and drink consumption, furthering beefing up critical data for investigators. Physicians will examine metabolic rates, urine content and bone density to determine energy requirements for even longer missions in deep space. Since astronauts often lose body mass during extended stays for reasons that remain unclear, specifics about the crew’s metabolism and activities, as well as other conditions, help ensure they are properly nourished for their demanding schedules in zero-g.

A small amount of Freon (about 100 milliliters) leaked out from a small nanosatellite poised to be launched from Kibo on Friday. There is no risk to crew health and safety and no risk to station hardware. Teams remain on track to deploy this nanosatellite Friday.

Culmination of Spacewalks Leads into Studies on Crew Health and Performance

aurora borealis
A spectacular aurora borealis, or “northern lights,” over Canada is sighted from the International Space Station near the highest point of its orbital path. Image Credit: NASA

After a trio of spacewalks this month, including the final one conducted last Friday by Commander Randy Bresnik and Flight Engineer Joe Acaba of NASA, the Expedition 53 crew returned to a schedule of full-time science this week.

Today, the crew explored how lighting aboard the International Space Station affects their performance and health. One such investigation is called Lighting Effects, which studies the impact of the change from fluorescent light bulbs to LEDs. By adjusting intensity and color, investigators on the ground will use crew feedback to determine if new lights can improve crew circadian rhythms, sleep and cognitive performance.

Blood and urine samples were also collected and stowed in the Minus Eighty Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS, or MELFI, marking Flight Day 30 for the Biochemical Profile and Repository experiments. Specific proteins and chemicals in the samples are used as biomarkers, or indicators of health. Armed with a database of test results, scientists can learn more about how spaceflight changes the human body and protect future astronauts on a journey to Mars based on their findings.

Expedition 53 is also preparing a microsatellite carrying an optical imaging system payload for deployment. Its operation in low-Earth orbit will attempt to solidify the concept that these small satellites are viable investigative platforms that can support critical operations and host advanced payloads.

Final Spacewalk Preps Before November Cygnus Launch

Astronaut Joe Acaba and spacewalkers
Astronaut Joe Acaba (foreground) assisted crewmates Randy Bresnik (right) and Mark Vande Hei before they began a spacewalk on Oct. 10.

Four Expedition 53 crewmates huddled together and made final preparations the day before the third and final spacewalk planned for October. Meanwhile, NASA’s commercial partner Orbital ATK has announced Nov. 11 as the new launch date for its Cygnus cargo carrier to the International Space Station.

Commander Randy Bresnik and Flight Engineer Joe Acaba are reviewing procedures and configuring tools before their spacewalk set for Friday at 8:05 a.m. EDT. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Paolo Nespoli from the European Space Agency will assist the spacewalkers in and out of their spacesuits and guide the duo as they work outside.

The spacewalk was originally set for Wednesday before mission managers replanned a new set of tasks due to a camera light failure. Bresnik and Acaba will now replace the camera light assembly on the Canadarm2’s newly installed Latching End Effector and install an HD camera on the starboard truss. The duo will also replace a fuse on Dextre’s payload platform and remove thermal insulation on two electrical spare parts housed on stowage platforms.

Orbital ATK is targeting the launch of its eighth Cygnus resupply mission to the station for Nov. 11. Cygnus will make a nine-minute ascent to space after launch, then begin a two-day trek to the station where it will be installed for a month-long stay after its capture by the Canadarm2.

Crew Conducts Research to Mitigate the Human Body’s Response to Spaceflight

Sprint investigation
Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer assess spaceflight-induced changes in muscle volume with the Sprint study.

The crew of Expedition 52 wrapped up an intensive week of research on Friday, concentrating on studies in the field of human health and performance.

On Thursday, the crew conducted their second ultrasound for the Sprint investigation, which studies the use of high-intensity, low-volume exercise training to minimize the loss of muscle, bone and cardiovascular fitness during long-duration space excursions. Using meticulous thigh and calf scans through remote guidance from the ground team, these results will help determine what changes astronauts are experiencing in microgravity and how best to manage those fluctuations for future missions.

Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer today will gather and transfer Fluid Shifts hardware to the station’s Russian segment in preparation for Fluid Shifts Chibis (Lower Body Negative Pressure) operations that begin on Monday. Fluid Shifts investigates the causes for lasting physical changes to astronaut’s eyes—a side effect of human space exploration in a microgravity environment. It’s theorized that the headward fluid shift in space-faring explorers contributes to these changes. In response, a lower body negative pressure device is being evaluated to see if it can perhaps reverse this fluid shift. As an added bonus, what investigators glean from this study may contribute to the development of countermeasures against lasting changes in vision and prevention of eye damage.

The Expedition 52-53 crew that will lift off to the International Space Station within a week is finalizing preparations at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy, along with astronauts Randy Bresnik and Paolo Nespoli, are slated to launch July 28 at 11:41 a.m. EDT for a six-hour journey to the orbiting laboratory. NASA TV will cover all the activities, so tune in.


Get weekly video highlights at: http://jscfeatures.jsc.nasa.gov/videoupdate/

Russian Cargo Craft Departs Space Station

Progress
An unpiloted Russian Progress resupply ship undocks from the International Space Station.

The unpiloted Russian Progress 66 cargo craft departed the International Space Station today after a five-month stay. Loaded with trash and other items no longer needed by the Expedition 52 crew, the Progress automatically undocked from the Pirs Docking Compartment on the Earth-facing side of the Russian segment of the complex at 1:46 p.m. EDT. With its mission completed, the cargo craft, which first arrived at the complex on Feb. 24, used its engines to conduct a separation maneuver, allowing it to move to a safe distance away from the station.  

The Progress’ engines will execute a deorbit burn at 4:58 p.m. to enable it to drop out of orbit for its entry back to Earth where it will burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.  

The next Russian Progress resupply ship is scheduled to launch to the station in mid-October.


Get weekly video highlights at: http://jscfeatures.jsc.nasa.gov/videoupdate/

 

In Orbit Today: Improving Longer-Duration Space Travel and Cancer Treatments

solar arrays
This angled image of space station solar arrays frames the Earth scene.

The Expedition 52 crew embarked on tasks Wednesday to further NASA’s eventual journey to Mars and aid researchers in understanding how to stimulate cancer-fighting drugs to target cancer cells—and cancer cells alone—in the human body.

The astronauts lent their opinions to a food questionnaire designed to explore if the current food available in the spaceflight food system would be acceptable for even longer-duration missions, like a Martian sojourn. Their input will help develop strategies to improve futuristic food systems in support of crew health and performance.

Of even greater magnitude to Earthlings approximately 240 miles below the orbiting laboratory is the work being performed with the Efficacy and Metabolism of Azonafide Antibody-Drug Conjugates in Microgravity (ADCs in Microgravity) investigation. The crew retrieved a BioCell Habitat, inoculation kits and ADC samples from a Minus Eighty Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI), set up hardware inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) and inoculated the Multiwall BioCells using syringes. Later, the astronauts will repeat these steps with a second BioCell Habitat, which begins an 11-day experiment stretch. In the zero-g environment of space, cancer cells grow in spheroid structures that closely resemble how they form in the human body. This study may speed up the development of targeted therapies for cancer patients, increasing the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatment and while reducing unwanted side effects.

Expedition 52 is taking out the trash midday tomorrow when Russia’s Progress 66 (66P) uncrewed cargo craft departs the International Space Station for a fiery disposal over the Pacific Ocean. The 66P is loaded with garbage and obsolete gear and will undock from the Pirs docking compartment Thursday at 1:46 p.m. EDT. The Russian resupply ship will orbit Earth for a few more hours before reentering Earth’s atmosphere harmlessly over the Pacific. NASA TV will not be covering the undocking activities.


Get weekly video highlights at: http://jscfeatures.jsc.nasa.gov/videoupdate/