Scientists are researching how International Space Station astronauts adapt to new technology as NASA prepares to send humans beyond low-Earth orbit. Crew members will have to learn how to operate new types of spacecraft and adjust to planetary surfaces with different microgravity environments.
As part of this research, Expedition 50 Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson from NASA and Thomas Pesquet from ESA started Monday morning with an interactive test on an iPad. The test is part of the Fine Motor Skills experiment that observes how astronauts interact with new technologies potentially influencing the design of future spaceships, spacesuits and habitats.
Commander Shane Kimbrough worked throughout the day on science hardware. He rebooted a computer on the MERLIN science freezer before swapping hard drives on a device that observes meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere. In the afternoon, Kimbrough videotaped himself reading a children’s book and performing a simple light experiment for school kids on Earth.
The three cosmonauts, Oleg Novitskiy, Andrey Borisenko and Sergey Ryzhikov, worked in the station’s Russian segment on a variety of science and maintenance tasks. The trio explored the human digestion system and collected blood samples for a bone loss study.
Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA commanded the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to release a Japanese cargo vehicle at 10:46 a.m. EST. At the time of release, the station was flying 261 statute miles above the south Atlantic Ocean. Earlier, ground controllers used the robotic arm to unberth the cargo craft.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) H-II Transport Vehicle-6 (HTV-6) arrived to the space station Dec. 13, after launching from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan Dec. 9.
The cargo ship will now move to a safe distance below and in front of the station for about a week’s worth of data gathering with a JAXA experiment designed to measure electromagnetic forces using a tether in low-Earth orbit. JAXA is scheduled to deorbit the craft on Feb. 5. Loaded with trash, the vehicle will burn up harmlessly over the Pacific Ocean.
The Expedition 50 crew is getting ready for Friday morning’s release of Japan’s sixth cargo craft to visit the International Space Station. The station residents are also continuing to explore how their eyes adapt to living in space for months at a time.
The Kounotori HTV-6 resupply ship, from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, is being disconnected from station systems today as it prepares for its departure Friday at 10:30 a.m. EST. Overnight, ground controllers will operate the Canadarm2 and maneuver the HTV-6 away from the Harmony module where it is attached.
European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA will then command the 57.7-foot-long robotic arm to release Kounotori back into orbit. After the HTV supports science experiments for a week, Japanese flight controllers will command the craft to deorbit on Feb. 5 for a fiery reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
More Fluid Shifts research took place today as astronauts study the possibility of using a special suit, the Lower Body Negative Pressure (LBNP) suit, to prevent the upward flow of fluids towards the head caused by microgravity. This headward flow may be causing pressure on the back of crew members’ eyes potentially causing damage and affecting vision.
During the afternoon, the crew also participated in ultrasound eye scans. Doctors on the ground assisted the crew to ensure good views of the optic nerve, cornea and back of the eye.
The Japanese HTV-6 resupply ship is packed and ready for its release Friday from the International Space Station. European astronaut Thomas Pesquet will command the Canadarm2 to release the HTV-6 at 10:30 a.m. EST. Afterward, it will enter Earth’s atmosphere for a fiery disposal over the Pacific Ocean. NASA TV will broadcast the release and departure activities live beginning at 10 a.m.
More eye exams were on the Expedition 50 crew’s timeline today to ensure the astronauts maintain good vision and help researchers understand the effects of microgravity on eyesight. The space residents used typical optometry instruments to look at the retina and the interior back of the eye.
The crew also worked on maintenance tasks throughout the orbital laboratory. Gear used to analyze particles in the space station’s atmosphere was replaced after a failure was detected in a spectrometer device. Water samples were also collected from the station’s life support systems for quality checks and analysis on the ground. The next SpaceX Dragon mission is due to return these samples and other cargo back to Earth after a launch date is announced.
The Expedition 50 crew members explored a variety of space phenomena today to help researchers improve life for humans and stimulate children’s curiosity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Scientists are working to understand how fluids behave not just in spacecraft fuel tanks and containers but also inside an astronaut’s body. Microgravity creates a headward flow of fluids that increases pressure on the back of an astronaut’s eyes potentially causing damage and affecting vision.
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and her Soyuz crewmates Oleg Novitskiy and Sergey Ryzhikov explored the effectiveness of a suit that may reverse these upward fluid shifts. Whitson and Novitskiy used a combination of eye exams and ultrasound artery scans on Ryzhikov today while he wore the Lower Body Negative Pressure (LBNP) suit today. The LBNP may offset the microgravity-induced fluid shifts possibly reducing the risk of vision changes in space.
Commander Shane Kimbrough reached out to schoolchildren this morning reading a story book and videotaping a simple fluids experiment. The Story Time From Space series seeks to increase science literacy by engaging students and teachers.
Mission controllers are preparing to release Japan’s Kounotori cargo ship from the International Space Station at the end of the week. Meanwhile, the Expedition 50 crew is getting ready for a new protein crystal experiment and reconfiguring combustion science gear.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is getting ready to complete its sixth cargo mission to the station. Overnight, robotics controllers maneuvered Canada’s 57.7-foot-long robotic arm holding an external pallet with discarded nickel-hydrogen batteries and installed them inside the Japanese cargo ship for disposal.
Next, the Canadarm2 will release Japan’s HTV-6 resupply ship from the Harmony module Friday for a fiery re-entry back in Earth’s atmosphere. The HTV-6 arrived Dec. 13 four days after its launch from the Tanegashima Space Center carrying crew supplies, new science experiments and lithium-ion batteries to upgrade the station’s power supply.
The California-based space company SpaceX is planning its tenth station cargo mission. The Dragon cargo craft will deliver a new experiment to study protein crystals to help scientists design better drugs to fight diseases. In advance of the Dragon delivery, Astronaut Peggy Whitson set up the Light Microscopy Module with new lenses today to get ready for the new experiment installation.
The International Space Station residents are wrapping up their work week today installing and checking science communications gear. The Expedition 50 crew is also continuing to explore how long-term space flight affects eyesight.
Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet worked on increasing the operations and communication capabilities of science gear. The duo worked on separate devices to improve data transfers between different science racks allowing more research to be conducted on orbit.
Whitson donned the suit today which pulls fluids down towards the feet to offset the headward flow. Novitskiy and Borisenko used an ultrasound scan and performed eye checks on Whitson to determine the effectiveness of the suit.
The Expedition 50 crew is continuing its investigation into vision changes and eye damage some astronauts have experienced after long-term missions in space. Living in the microgravity environment causes a headward fluid shift that may be causing pressure behind astronauts’ eyes resulting in visual and physical changes.
Two cosmonauts, Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko, and European astronaut Thomas Pesquet explored a possible solution to the upward fluid pressure. Borisenko donned the Lower Body Negative Pressure (LBNP) suit which pulls fluids down towards the feet. Ryzhikov and Pesquet then used an ultrasound scan and performed eye checks on Borisenko to determine the effectiveness of the LBNP suit.
On the station maintenance front, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson installed vacuum access ports in the Harmony module. Commander Shane Kimbrough connected gas and water umbilical hoses in the Columbus lab module. He also updated supplies for the Human Research Facility that enables scientists to learn how astronauts adapt to living in space.
Following a successful pair of spacewalks, the Expedition 50 crew has switched gears and is moving full-speed ahead with advanced space research. The orbital residents checked out science gear and studied the impacts of living in space.
European astronaut Thomas Pesquet repressed the Japanese Kibo lab module airlock after a small satellite deployer shot a set of tiny satellites, or CubeSats, into Earth orbit on Monday. The variety of CubeSats will test new spacecraft deorbiting and propulsion technologies and be used for communication purposes.
Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson joined veteran cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Oleg Novitskiy for the ongoing Fluid Shifts study and collected blood, urine and saliva samples. The human research experiment seeks to investigate vision and eye damage some astronauts have reported after their space missions.
Commander Shane Kimbrough worked on combustion science gear troubleshooting a pair of devices that explore flames and high temperatures in space. Flight Engineer Sergey Ryzhikov worked inside a docked Soyuz spacecraft recharging computer batteries.
Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough from NASA and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency concluded their spacewalk at 12:20 p.m. EST. During the nearly six hour spacewalk, the two astronauts successfully installed three new adapter plates and hooked up electrical connections for three of the six new lithium-ion batteries on the International Space Station.
The new lithium-ion batteries and adapter plates replace the nickel-hydrogen batteries currently used on the station to store electrical energy generated by the station’s solar arrays. These new batteries provide an improved power capacity for operations with a lighter mass and a smaller volume than the nickel-hydrogen batteries. Robotic work to update the batteries began in January. This was the second of two spacewalks to finalize the installation. Additional batteries will be replaced as part of this power upgrade over the next couple of years as new batteries are delivered to station.
Astronauts were also able to accomplish several get-ahead tasks including stowing padded shields from Node 3 outside of the station to make room inside the airlock and taking photos to document hardware for future spacewalks.
This was the second spacewalk in a week for Kimbrough and the fourth of his career, and the first for Pesquet in the refurbishment of two of the station’s eight power channels.
Space station crew members have conducted 197 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory. Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 51 days 6 hours and 4 minutes working outside the station.
Keep up with the crew aboard the International Space Station on the agency’s blog, follow @ISS on Instagram, and @space_station on Twitter.