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.


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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.


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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.


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All About the Human, and New Crew at Launch Site

Expedition 52-53 crew
Expedition 52-53 crew members Paolo Nespoli (left), Sergey Ryazanskiy (center) and Randy Bresnik (right) arrive at their launch site in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on July 16. Credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov

Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 52 astronauts furthered investigative data for NASA’s Human Research Program, collecting in-flight data and blood and urine samples over the weekend.

Today, the crew will take additional samples for the Biochem Profile, Repository and Cardio Ox investigations. An ultrasound was also used for the Cardio Ox study, which seeks to determine whether biological markers of oxidative and inflammatory stress are elevated during and after spaceflight, and whether this could result in an increased, long-term risk of the hardening of the arteries for space-faring explorers.

Also on tap is the Mag 3D cell culturing experiment. The crew will fixate the BioCells and insert them into the Minus Eighty Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI). The orbiting laboratory provides a way to manipulate and culture cells in 2D and 3D in space and on the ground, which can help isolate the effects of gravity in experiments and enable biological research previously deemed unfeasible in space.

The next crew to lift off to the International Space Station has arrived at its launch site at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The experienced space travelers from Roscosmos, NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are due to blast off inside the Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft July 28 for a six-hour ride to the space station’s Rassvet module. Cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy, with astronauts Randy Bresnik and Paolo Nespoli, are scheduled to live and work in space until mid-December.


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Crew Researches Exercise, Protein Crystals and High Temps

Pic of Earth and night sky
This long-exposure photograph of Earth and starry sky was taken during a night pass by the Expedition 52 crew aboard the International Space Station. The Japanese Kibo module and part of the station’s solar array are visible at the top.

A pair of astronauts explored new space exercise techniques today to stay healthy and fit on long duration missions. The crew also observed protein crystals and high temperatures to understand microgravity’s effects on humans and physical processes.

Expedition 52 Flight Engineer Jack Fischer strapped himself in to the space station’s exercise bike this morning with assistance from veteran astronaut Peggy Whitson. The work out study is researching the effectiveness of high intensity, low volume exercise to minimize loss of muscle, bone, and cardiovascular function in space.

Whitson, who has been living in space since November 2016, then moved on and set up gear for the Two Phase Flow experiment. That study is observing how heat transfers from liquids in microgravity to help improve the design of thermal management systems in future space platforms.

Fischer later checked out protein crystals through a microscope for an experiment researching radiation damage, bone loss and muscle atrophy caused by living in space. At the end of the day, he swapped out samples that were heated up inside the Electrostatic Levitation Furnace. The furnace is a facility that allows safe observations and measurements of materials exposed to extremely high temperatures.


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Magnetic Cell Studies and AC Repairs on Orbit Today

Expedition 52 trio
Expedition 52 flight engineers Paolo Nespoli, left, Sergey Ryazanskiy, center, and Randy Bresnik visit Red Square prepare to lay roses at the site where Russian space icons are interred as part of traditional pre-launch ceremonies. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The orbiting Expedition 52 trio continued exploring magnetized cell structures today and worked on advanced repair tasks. Also, a new crew is in Moscow getting ready for its launch in less than three weeks.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson was back at work Tuesday running the Mag 3D cell culturing experiment all day. She peered at magnetic three-dimensional cell cultures through a microscope, specifically looking at the borders of the biocell structures. The biocells were then stowed in a science freezer before being injected with magnetic 3D culture media. Mag 3D observations may improve cell and tissue culture capabilities and research on orbit.

Though the space station is an orbiting laboratory, it is also a home that needs regular maintenance. Flight Engineer Jack Fischer put on his repairman’s hat today replacing a failed water separator inside the Tranquility module. The water separator is part of the Common Cabin Air Assembly that controls the station’s temperature and humidity.

Three upcoming station crew members are spending their final week in Moscow before heading to the launch site in Kazakhstan on Sunday. The experienced space trio will launch to space aboard the Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft July 28 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Expedition 52-53 crew members Randy Bresnik, Paolo Nespoli and Sergey Ryazanskiy will live aboard the station for 4-1/2 months.


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Crew Starts Week with Emergency Drill and Magnetic Cell Study

Expedition 52 crew members
Expedition 52 flight engineers Paolo Nespoli, left, Sergey Ryazanskiy, center, and Randy Bresnik visit Red Square to lay roses at the site where Russian space icons are interred as part of traditional pre-launch ceremonies on July 10 in Moscow. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The three Expedition 52 crew members practiced evacuating the International Space Station today in the unlikely event of an emergency. The trio also set up an advanced life science study and continued the upkeep of the orbital complex.

Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin joined Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer for an emergency evacuation drill Monday morning. The crew practiced quickly donning safety gear and entering the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft before simulating an emergency undocking and descent to Earth.

Afterward, Whitson spent the rest of the day exploring magnetic cell cultures and bio-printing for the Mag 3D experiment. The new research which just started in April is exploring how magnetic tools may enhance cell and tissue culture capabilities on orbit.

Fischer pressurized the Japanese Kibo lab’s airlock and checked for leaks ahead of an external experiment set to begin next week. Fischer later worked on light plumbing duties and checked on the condition of a science freezer.

Back on Earth, another three Expedition 52 crew members are getting ready for their July 28 launch to the space station. The experienced space trio of Randy Bresnik, Paolo Nespoli and Sergey Ryazanskiy, visited Red Square in Moscow for traditional ceremonies on Monday. They will head to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan July 16 for final pre-launch training.


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