Crew Gears Up for Three Spacewalks as Dragon Heads to Port

Spacewalker Shane Kimbrough
NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough is photographed during a spacewalk in January 2017.

The Expedition 50 crew is gearing up for three spacewalks over two weeks to continue the external maintenance at the International Space Station. Also, the SpaceX Dragon is returning to port today after completing a month-long stay at the station.

Astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet will begin the first spacewalk Friday at 8 a.m. EDT. NASA TV will begin live coverage of the 198th spacewalk in support of station assembly and maintenance Friday at 6:30 a.m.

The two spacewalkers will spend 6.5 hours disconnecting cables from the Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 (PMA-3), lubricating the tip of the Canadarm2, inspecting a radiator and replacing cameras. Computer relay boxes will also be replaced. The new hardware contains software upgrades for future dockings of commercial crew vehicles.

Friday’s cable work on the PMA-3 will prepare it for its relocation from the Tranquility module to the Harmony module on March 30. The relocation readies the PMA-3 for the future installation of the new International Docking Adapter-3 set to be delivered on a future cargo mission.

The SpaceX Dragon is heading to its port today in southern California after a successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean Sunday morning. NASA support personnel will retrieve the numerous research samples stowed in Dragon’s cargo hold and deliver them to scientists for analysis. The results of the advanced space science may improve disease therapies and injury treatments on Earth.

SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft Departs Space Station

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was released from space station at 5:11 a.m. ET on March 19 after delivering more than 5,500 pounds of cargo.
The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was released from space station at 5:11 a.m. ET on March 19 after delivering more than 5,500 pounds of cargo.

Expedition 50 astronauts Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Shane Kimbrough of NASA released the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft from the International Space Station‘s robotic arm at 5:11 a.m. EDT.

With the spacecraft a safe distance from the station, SpaceX flight controllers in Hawthorne, California, will command its deorbit burn around 10 a.m. The capsule will splash down at about 10:54 a.m. in the Pacific Ocean, where recovery forces will retrieve the capsule and its more than 5,400 pounds of cargo. The cargo includes science samples from human and animal research, external payloads, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations and education activities.

The deorbit burn and splashdown will not be broadcast on NASA TV.

NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the non-profit organization that manages research aboard the U.S. national laboratory portion of the space station, will receive time-sensitive samples and begin working with researchers to process and distribute them within 48 hours of splashdown.

Dragon, the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return to Earth intact, launched Feb. 19 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and arrived at the station Feb. 23 for the company’s 10th NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission.

Harvest Day on Station as Kids Space Research Begins

Astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Thomas Pesquet and Peggy Whitson
Astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Thomas Pesquet and Peggy Whitson seemingly juggle apples and oranges floating in the microgravity environment inside the space station.

The crew is harvesting plants today grown on the International Space Station that will be returned to Earth aboard the SpaceX Dragon. Also, a variety of student experiments submitted from schools across the United States were activated inside the orbital laboratory.

Dragon is due to return to Earth and splash down in the Pacific Ocean March 19. The resupply ship will carry back gear and science samples for analysis by NASA personnel. Plants that were grown on petri plates for the APEX-04 study will also be returned aboard Dragon. Astronaut Peggy Whitson harvested those plants today helping researchers study the molecular changes that plants experience when grown in space.

Future scientists had their experiments activated today inside the NanoRacks commercial space research facility aboard the station. Students from five U.S. schools will be exploring ways to reduce infections, improve muscle injury treatments, grow plants on Mars, filter bacteria and solve common slippery surface problems.

Ongoing Space Science Seeks to Keep Astronauts Healthy

Astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet
Astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet were pictured inside the cupola just after the SpaceX Dragon was captured Feb. 23, 2017.

NASA is preparing for longer human journeys deeper into space and is exploring how to keep astronauts healthy and productive. The Expedition 50 crew members today studied space nutrition, measured their bodies and checked their eyes to learn how to adapt to living in space. The space residents also unloaded a cargo ship, worked on the Tranquility module and practiced an emergency simulation.

The ongoing Energy experiment that ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet collected urine samples for today seeks to define the energy requirements necessary to keep an astronaut successful during a space mission. Pesquet also joined NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson for body measurements to learn how microgravity affects body shape and impacts crew suit sizing. Commander Shane Kimbrough checked his eyes today with Whitson’s help and support from experts on the ground.

Kimbrough worked throughout the day before his eye checks and configured the Tranquility module for upcoming electronics and communications work. Cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy continued unloading gear from the newly-arrived Progress 66 cargo ship. At the end of the day, Novitskiy joined Whitson and Pesquet for an emergency simulation with inputs from control centers in Houston and Moscow.

CubeSats Deployed During Crew Ultrasound Scans

Expedition 50 Crew Members
Five Expedition 50 crew members gather in the Zvezda service module for mealtime. Clockwise from bottom are NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Oleg Novitskiy, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and cosmonaut Sergey Ryzhikov.

Four CubeSats were deployed this morning as the crew researched fluid shifts toward the head that may affect astronaut vision. Tools were also being collected and organized today ahead of possible maintenance spacewalks.

Four CubeSats were ejected Monday morning from outside Japan’s Kibo lab module using the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer. The LEMUR-2 satellites will help monitor global ship tracking and improve weather forecasting.

Sergey Ryzhikov from Roscosmos participated in ultrasound scans of the head and neck for the long-running Fluid Shifts study. Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency joined Ryzhikov for the experiment to learn how to prevent upward fluid shifts that may cause lasting eye damage.

Commander Shane Kimbrough worked inside the Quest airlock today gathering spacewalk tools. Mission planners are looking at potential spacewalks to continue upgrading the International Space Station’s power systems.


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Trio Surpasses 100 Days as Dragon Unloads Earth Science

Astronaut Peggy Whitson
Astronaut Peggy Whitson shows off posters signed by hundreds of personnel who have supported her mission.

Three Expedition 50 crew members recently surpassed 100 days in space and will come home in June. Also, SpaceX Dragon external experiments are being unloaded for installation on the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson has been living in space with her Expedition 50 crewmates for over 100 days now. She and Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency and Oleg Novitskiy from Roscosmos will return to Earth June 2 after 197 days in space. The trio launched Nov. 17 beginning a two-day trip to the station.

Whitson has reached out to her supporters on the ground and mentioned them with her “NASA Village” campaign from space. She launched to the station with posters signed by hundreds of support personnel and recently showed them off on orbit.

Watch Peggy Whitson describe the “NASA Village”
Visit Peggy Whitson’s Facebook page

A pair of Earth observation experiments delivered last week on the SpaceX Dragon have been robotically removed from the resupply ship. Both experiments will be installed on specialized pallets on the outside of the orbital laboratory and activated for years of research.

The first experiment, SAGE-III, will observe how tiny particles interact with Earth’s sunscreen, or ozone, possibly affecting the climate. The second, Lightning Image Sensor, will monitor lightning around the globe to improve weather forecasting, enhance climate models and increase aviation safety.


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Station Lifts Orbit, Crew Explores Diet and Stem Cells

Thomas Pesquet, Oleg Novitskiy and Peggy Whitson
(From left) Crewmates Thomas Pesquet, Oleg Novitskiy and Peggy Whitson just recently celebrated 100 days in space. The trio is scheduled to return to Earth June 2.

The International Space Station fired its engines Wednesday night slightly raising its orbit to accommodate a crew exchange in April. In the meantime, the six-person Expedition 50 crew continued learning how living in space affects the human body.

The station’s third module, the Zvezda service module which launched in 2000, fired its main engines for 43 seconds overnight. The orbital reboost places the station at the correct altitude for the departure of three Expedition 50 crew members April 10. Just ten days later, two new space residents will arrive completing the Expedition 51 crew.

Scientists are exploring the best nutrition requirements to keep astronauts healthy and productive during long-term space missions. Astronaut Thomas Pesquet is contributing to that research today beginning a prescribed diet for the next 11 days. During that period he will collect urine samples and measure his breathing for the Energy study. Results will help researchers plan meals to ensure successful missions farther out into space.

Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson, who will become station commander April 9, peered at stem cells through a specialized microscope on today. She is helping scientists understand how microgravity increases stem cell replication possibly improving disease treatments on Earth.


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Station Boosting Orbit for April Crew Swap

The Expedition 50 Crew
The Expedition 50 crew members are (from left) Andrey Borisenko, Commander Shane Kimbrough, Sergey Ryzhikov, Thomas Pesquet, Peggy Whitson and Oleg Novitskiy. Credit: NASA/Bill Stafford

The International Space Station will boost its orbit Wednesday night to get ready for a crew swap next month. Three Expedition 50 crew members will complete their mission and a new two-person crew will launch to the station in April.

Commander Shane Kimbrough and his crewmates Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko will end their mission April 10 after 173 days in space. The trio will undock from the Poisk mini-research module in their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft officially ending the Expedition 50 mission.

The reboost also readies the station for the arrival of two new crew members who will arrive April 20. Veteran cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronaut Jack Fischer, a first-time space flyer, will take a short four-orbit ride aboard the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft and dock to Poisk. The new Expedition 51 trio is scheduled to stay in space for 136 days.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will become Expedition 51 commander after Kimbrough and his crew undock. She is staying behind with fellow crewmates Thomas Pesquet from France and Oleg Novitskiy from Russia. They will stay in space until June 2 ending their mission after 195 days when they return home in their Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft.

Engineers on the ground switched from one pump to another in the thermal cooling system for one of the particle detectors on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), an experiment to study cosmic ray particle physics from the outside of the International Space Station. The silicon tracker is one of several detectors that collect data on cosmic particles and is equipped with four redundant pumps used to circulate carbon dioxide to maintain the required temperature in the changing thermal environment outside the station. A pump stopped functioning on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, and was the second to stop after a different pump experienced a similar issue in March, 2014. Only one pump is required to operate at a given time, and long-term planning is underway to potentially bypass the pumps and associated equipment with an upgraded system put in place during a series of spacewalks. AMS launched in 2011, and results have already contributed to science showing potential indirect evidence of dark matter and other new cosmic ray particle physics discoveries.


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Crew Checks Spacesuits and Explores New Life Science

Astronauts Thomas Pesquet and Peggy Whitson
Astronauts Thomas Pesquet and Peggy Whitson set up the Microgravity Science Glovebox inside the Destiny lab module.

Astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency cleaned U.S. spacesuit cooling loops and collected water samples for a periodic maintenance check today. Afterward, he began charging spacewalking gear including helmet lights and tool batteries.

Commander Shane Kimbrough and NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson worked on life support maintenance today. They removed and disassembled valves and ducts to access old carbon dioxide filters that needed replacing inside the Destiny lab module. The duo will be back at work Wednesday installing newer generation filters.

One of the main objectives of the International Space Station is to provide an orbital laboratory to research how living in space long-term affects humans. New and ongoing experiments conducted today may provide benefits for humans on and off Earth.

Kimbrough checked on rodents being observed for a tissue regeneration study. Whitson continued researching stem cells with a new microscope delivered last week aboard the SpaceX Dragon. Cosmonaut Andrey Borisenko studied how viruses behave in space while his fellow cosmonauts, Sergey Ryzhikov and Oleg Novitskiy, explored non-invasive ways to monitor a crew member’s health and methods to keep their skills sharp on and off Earth.


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Brand New Dragon Experiments Activated on Station

SpaceX Dragon
SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft is seen Feb. 23, 2017, during final approach to the International Space Station.

The Expedition 50 crew began activating new science experiments delivered last week aboard the SpaceX Dragon. The various life science studies will study bones and muscles, stem cells, botany and protein crystals.

Rodents delivered aboard Dragon were placed in their habitats over the weekend for the Rodent Research-4 study. That experiment is observing how bone and tissue regenerate in microgravity.

Stem cells were also unloaded from Dragon and stowed in a science freezer. The crew will research the replication of stem cells which may benefit clinical trials on Earth for new disease treatments. Astronaut Peggy Whitson used a specialized microscope to view the stem cells as the experiment got under way over the weekend.

The crew is also exploring how plants grow in space in order to provide food and oxygen for future long-duration missions. Plant samples were removed from a science freezer and placed in the Veggie facility for growth and observation. The spaceflight environment can change a plant’s genetic expression and growth pattern.

High-quality crystals are being grown on the International Space Station that otherwise couldn’t be grown on Earth due to gravity. The crystal samples are being studied for the Light Microscopy Module Biophysics-1 experiment to help researchers design new disease-fighting drugs.


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