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.

Cygnus Departs Station After 93-Day Cargo Mission

The Cygnus space freighter is pictured in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm moments before its release completing a 93-day stay at the space station. Credit: NASA TV
The Cygnus space freighter is pictured in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm moments before its release completing a 93-day stay at the space station. Credit: NASA TV

At 10:10 a.m. EST, flight controllers on the ground sent commands to release the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft from the Canadarm2 robotic arm after earlier detaching Cygnus from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module.

The Cygnus spacecraft successfully departed the International Space Station three months after arriving at the space station to deliver about 8,000 pounds of scientific experiments and supplies to the orbiting laboratory.

Prior to departure, the crew packed Cygnus with the Saffire V investigation and the SharkSat hosted payload to be conducted during an extended mission in orbit. On Jan. 26, Northrop Grumman flight controllers in Dulles, Virginia, will initiate Cygnus’ deorbit to perform a safe re-entry, burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Get space station news, images and features via social media on Instagram at: @iss, ISS on Facebook, and on Twitter @Space_Station and @ISS_Research.

Cygnus Departs Station Today Live on NASA TV

The Cygnus space freighter is pictured moments after being released from the Canadarm2 robotic arm on Jan. 31, 2020.
The Cygnus space freighter is pictured moments after being released from the Canadarm2 robotic arm on Jan. 31, 2020.

About three months after delivering several tons of scientific experiments and supplies to the International Space Station, Northrop Grumman’s uncrewed Cygnus cargo spacecraft is scheduled to depart the orbiting laboratory Wednesday, Jan. 6. This morning, flight controllers on the ground sent commands to use the Canadarm2 robotic arm to robotically detach Cygnus from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module and maneuver it into place.

Live coverage of the spacecraft’s release will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 9:45 a.m. EDT, with its release from the robotic arm scheduled for 10:10 a.m.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will monitor Cygnus’ systems upon its departure from the space station.

The Cygnus resupply spacecraft is named in memory of Kalpana Chawla, the first female astronaut of Indian descent. Chawla, who dedicated her life to understanding flight dynamics, died in the STS-107 space shuttle Columbia accident.

Cygnus arrived at the space station Oct. 5 with nearly 8,000 pounds of supplies, scientific investigations, commercial products, hardware, and other cargo following an Oct. 2 launch on Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.

For departure coverage and more information about the mission, visit: https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/. Get space station news, images and features via social media on Instagram at: @iss, ISS on Facebook, and on Twitter @Space_Station and @ISS_Research.

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.

Crew Exploring Life Science Before Relaxing on New Year’s Day

NASA astronaut Shannon Walker sets up hardware inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox for an experiment to learn more about the process of semiconductor crystal growth to benefit Earth and space industries.
NASA astronaut Shannon Walker sets up hardware inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox for an experiment to learn more about the process of semiconductor crystal growth.

The seven Expedition 64 crew members aboard the International Space Station will see the New Year sixteen times today and take the day off on the first day of 2021. The orbital residents are also exploring how microgravity affects mice and protein crystals to improve human health.

The station orbits the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kilometers per hour) giving the crew the opportunity to see 16 sunrises and sunsets each day. The space residents set their clocks to GMT, or Greenwich Mean Time, and will start their new year at 12:00 a.m. GMT on Jan. 1, or five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

Rodent research has been taking place all December aboard the station so scientists can understand how living in space impacts vision and bone tissue. NASA astronaut Victor Glover tended to mice today for the two studies before they will return in January aboard the SpaceX Cargo Dragon for analysis on Earth.

NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins photographed scientific samples for a study that seeks to commercialize the production of medical therapies in space. The Monoclonal Antibodies investigation is specifically exploring the creation of protein crystals that target cancer cells and could improve the crystallization process on Earth.

Rubins also joined Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi as the trio packed the Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter throughout Thursday. The trio packed Cygnus with trash and discarded gear for its departure scheduled on Jan. 6. After its separation, Cygnus will orbit Earth on its own until Jan. 26 for flight tests and science experiments.

Station Commander Sergey Ryzhikov serviced a variety of Russian hardware today before loading the Progress 76 cargo craft ahead of its February departure from the Pirs docking compartment. Cosmonaut Sergey Kud-Sverchkov spent Thursday on engineering and plumbing tasks in the orbiting lab’s Russian segment.

Cargo Packing and Radish Harvesting Aboard Station Today

Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Kate Rubins is pictured inside the U.S. Quest airlock carrying a pair of pistol grip tools used for maintenance work during spacewalks.
Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Kate Rubins is pictured inside the U.S. Quest airlock carrying a pair of pistol grip tools used for maintenance work during spacewalks.

The Expedition 64 crew is packing a pair of U.S. resupply ships for departure next month. The International Space Station is also humming with microgravity research to benefit humans on and off the Earth.

Space agriculture is key to the long-term success of human exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit. Astronauts and botanists are learning how to manage food production aboard the station and have been harvesting a variety of edible plants for several years.

NASA Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins spent Wednesday harvesting radish plants and readying them for consumption for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment. Their short cultivation time is ideal for research and evaluating nutrition and taste in microgravity.

Rodents are being studied to understand the impacts to vision and bone tissue while living in space. Today, JAXA Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi fed the mice and cleaned their specialized research habitats. Those mice will be returned to Earth for analysis next month aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon.

NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Shannon Walker packed trash inside the Cygnus space freighter today ahead of its Jan. 6 departure. Following its separation, Cygnus will orbit Earth on its own for an extended period of flight tests and science experiments. Walker also readied research and development hardware and sample modules for return to Earth aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon less than a week after Cygnus departs.

Station Commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos spent the day configuring communications gear and cleaning ventilation systems inside the orbiting lab’s Russian segment. His fellow cosmonaut Sergey Kud-Sverchkov wiped down module surfaces to rid the station of microbes and vacuumed the Zarya module.

U.S. Cargo Ships Depart In January; Crew Exploring Biology and Physics

Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins checks on young radish plants growing for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment that seeks to optimize plant growth in space.
Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins checks on young radish plants growing for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment that seeks to optimize plant growth in space.

Two U.S. resupply ships are being readied for their departure next month from the International Space Station. Meanwhile, the Expedition 64 crew continued its intense schedule of space research with cardiac studies and radish harvesting today.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter is due to be the first cargo craft to leave the station in 2021 on Jan. 6. Ground controllers will remotely command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release Cygnus into Earth orbit after 93 days attached to the Unity module. Cygnus will separate to a safe distance away from the station and continue orbiting Earth for an extended mission of flight tests and science experiments.

Less than a week later, the SpaceX Cargo Dragon will undock from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. The upgraded version of the returnable space freighter will splash down the same day in the Atlantic Ocean loaded with space station hardware and science investigations for analysis.

The station residents also focused Tuesday on a host of space studies exploring heart cells, semiconductors and botany. These studies and others being hosted on the station may benefit human health and improve products around the world and on future space missions.

Samples of engineered heart tissues were serviced aboard the orbiting lab today for the Cardinal Heart study that seeks to understand space-caused cell and tissue abnormalities. Hardware is being set up this week to learn more about the process of semiconductor crystal growth to benefit Earth and space industries. Finally, radish plants are being harvested on the station this week helping botanists learn to manage food production in space and evaluate nutrition and taste in microgravity.

Astronauts Studying Vision, Genetic Changes and Heart Conditions Today

NASA astronaut Shannon Walker unpacks hardware inside the Quest airlock where U.S. spacewalks are staged.
NASA astronaut Shannon Walker unpacks hardware inside the Quest airlock where U.S. spacewalks are staged.

The seven Expedition 64 residents living aboard the International Space Station will be going into the Christmas holiday focusing intensely on space biology. The entire crew will be off duty on Christmas day relaxing following an increased pace of microgravity research.

Rodent research will be the highlight through Christmas eve as the astronauts explore how living in space affects eyesight and bones. Scientists are observing mice launched to the orbiting lab earlier this month to understand why 40 percent of crew members living in space have reported vision impairment. A combination of factors, such as headward fluid shifts and space radiation, is suspected of impacting eyesight off the Earth.

Another group of mice is being analyzed for space-caused genetic changes in bone tissue. The study is exploring the molecular mechanisms of tissue degeneration that may provide preventative therapies for astronauts in space and humans on Earth.

The mice from both biomedical studies will be returned to Earth aboard the SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship in January for analysis by scientists in Florida. The Cargo Dragon completes its mission on January 11 when it undocks from the Harmony module and splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean. It will be packed with finalized science experiments and space station hardware for servicing.

Heart research continued today with Flight Engineer Kate Rubins exploring engineered heart tissues to gain insights into aging and weakening heart muscles. The cardiovascular study was activated shortly after its arrival aboard the Cargo Dragon and may improve treatments for heart conditions on and off Earth.

Microbes are also being examined for the risk they pose to spacecraft systems and astronaut health. The experiment may provide insight into better ways to control their growth and disinfect surfaces on Earth and in space.

Crew Studies Immunology, Genetic Expression and Space Manufacturing

This image from International Space Station as it was flying 261 miles over Iran looks southeast across the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
This image from International Space Station as it was flying 261 miles over Iran looks southeast across the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

The seven-member Expedition 64 crew, consisting of five astronauts and two cosmonauts, will spend the rest of the year conducting valuable space research aboard the International Space Station.

Tuesday’s slate of science investigations explored a range of space biology and physics phenomena to benefit human health and manufacturing. Results from these microgravity studies could also boost the commercialization of space.

The crew has been looking at tiny organisms including microbes and fruit flies today to gain insights into immunology and genetic expression. These experiments will return to Earth on Jan. 11 for analysis when the SpaceX Cargo Dragon undocks from the Harmony module and splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean.

Weightlessness has the potential to increase the virulence of microbes and the Micro-14A study seeks to understand why. The astronauts are looking at the opportunistic pathogen Candida albicans in a human cell host to see how it adapts to space. Results could help doctors quantify the health risk to space crews and formulate countermeasures.

The Genes in Space-7 investigation examines the central nervous system of fruit flies for space-caused changes in genetic expression. The lack of a day-night cycle in space can create cognitive changes to molecular pathways that scientists want to track. Monitoring the changes to neural systems in space will help scientists understand how the biological clock adapts to long-term space missions.

A pair of physics studies is under way aboard the station seeking to promote the manufacturing of high-quality fiber optics that only microgravity can provide. Optical fiber samples were swapped out inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox today for the Fiber Optic Production study that is testing commercial production on the station. A secondary experiment, Space Fibers-2, explores a custom fiber fabrication method that operates autonomously inside its own specialized device that can be examined back on Earth.

The 2,400-pound NanoRacks Bishop research airlock is now part of the orbiting lab’s Tranquility module and will be activated and pressurized for operations at a later date. Bishop will increase the station’s capacity for private and public research and also enable the release of larger satellites and the transfer of cargo inside and outside the station.

Cancer, Heart Research Today Ahead of Science Airlock Installation

A U.S. Cygnus and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft are pictured docked to the station as it orbited above the Pacific Ocean.
A U.S. Cygnus and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft are pictured docked to the station as it orbited above the Pacific Ocean.

The Expedition 64 crew is busy this week with a full slate of life science to promote healthier humans on and off the Earth. Cancer and heart research took precedence today alongside muscle and rodent studies for unique therapeutic insights on the International Space Station.

The microgravity environment on the station enables the production of high-quality protein crystals that are imaged using a microscope for the purpose of improving drug development. The Monoclonal Antibodies study taking place today will use the observations to improve medical cancer treatments and the space manufacturing process.

Engineered heart tissue samples are being observed this week for the Cardinal Heart investigation. NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins is leading that experiment to understand why weightlessness seems to induce cell and tissue abnormalities similar to heart conditions on Earth. Results may help doctors understand and predict cardiovascular risks for Earthlings and astronauts.

More muscle work was on the research schedule today as the crew continued with measurements and ultrasound scans today. The Myotones investigation monitors how microgravity changes muscles and tendons in an astronaut’s body to provide countermeasures for crews in space and therapies for patients on Earth.

Rodents are also being studied this month for insights into tissue and bone loss as well as eye changes caused by living in space. One study will study explore how genetic modifications affect bone and tissue regeneration. The second will look at new treatments for space-caused and Earthbound eye problems.

Robotics controllers are preparing to remove a new science airlock delivered to the station last week inside the SpaceX Cargo Dragon’s unpressurized trunk. Using the Canadarm2 robotic arm, the NanoRacks Bishop airlock will be attached to the Tranquility module this weekend ramping up commercial research opportunities in space.