Station Trio Works High-Flying Science and Maintenance

oleg Novitskiy and Peggy Whitson
Expedition 51 crewmates Oleg Novitskiy and Peggy Whitson pause for a portrait during a busy day aboard the station.

Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineers Thomas Pesquet and Oleg Novitskiy juggled a wide variety of space science and human research Thursday. The Expedition 51 trio also switched roles from orbital scientists to high-flying technicians maintaining the systems of the International Space Station.

Whitson started the day testing her fine motor skills to help researchers understand space adaptation and potentially design future touch-based devices for astronauts. The commander then spent the afternoon on space plumbing and worked on the Water Recovery System that converts urine and sweat into clean drinking water.

Pesquet began his morning observing what happens to materials heated to extreme temperatures. The Electrostatic Levitation Furnace can reveal combustion properties and synthesize materials that are very difficult to produce on Earth. In the afternoon, he studied the different phases of metallic alloys in the Material Science Research Rack.

Novitskiy, who is on his second station mission, worked throughout the day on troubleshooting a computer issue in the Zarya cargo module. Towards the end of the day, he charged computer batteries inside the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft and flushed water tanks into the Progress 66 cargo craft.

Expedition 51 Ramps Up for New Crew and Cargo

Expedition 51 Crew Members Fyodor Yurchikhin and Jack Fischer
Expedition 51 crew members Fyodor Yurchikhin and Jack Fischer pose in front of the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft they will launch in April 20. Credit: NASA/Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center/Andrey Shelepin

The three Expedition 51 crew members aboard the International Space Station are waiting for a new cargo shipment and a new crew to arrive next week. The orbiting trio are also performing human research and working on U.S. spacesuits.

A pair of spaceships are due next week at the space station. The Orbital ATK Cygnus will launch April 18 on a four-day trip to deliver over 7,600 pounds science gear and crew supplies. On April 20, a pair of new Expedition 51 crew members will blast off in the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft on a six-hour ride to the station’s Poisk module.

Commander Peggy Whitson is continuing to explore how new lights installed in the station are affecting crew health and wellness. She is documenting her sleep patterns and participating in cognition and visual tests for the Lighting Effects study.

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet started his day conducting a Fine Motor Skills test. The study is helping scientists understand how astronauts adapt to touch-based technologies that could influence the development of mobile devices and spacecraft piloting interfaces.

Pesquet turned his attention to spacesuit maintenance Wednesday afternoon. He dumped cooling water and purged gas buildup from the water tanks inside the suits. The work is being done ahead of a planned May 12 spacewalk to replace an avionics box to control science experiments installed outside the station.

Kimbrough Returns to Houston, Whitson Continues Stay in Space

Astronaut Shane Kimbrough Arrives in Houston
Astronaut Shane Kimbrough (left) is greeted by Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa after his arrival in Houston just 24 hours after completing his 173-day mission in space.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough is back in Houston just 24 hours after landing in Kazakhstan completing a 173-day mission in space. He arrived home aboard a NASA aircraft Tuesday morning while his two Expedition 50 crewmates, cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko, have returned to Moscow.

Three crew members are staying behind on the International Space Station beginning the Expedition 51 mission. They are waiting for a new pair of residents to arrive in less than two weeks. Commander Peggy Whitson is orbiting Earth and leading the station crew of Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet.

All three crew members are busy aboard the orbital laboratory today maintaining its systems and performing critical space research. Whitson explored how new lights on the station are affecting crew performance and reconfigured science hardware with help from Pesquet. Novitskiy worked on Russian life support systems and studied ways to improve piloting spacecraft on long-term missions.

Two new Expedition 51 crewmates, veteran cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronaut and first-time space flyer Jack Fischer, will join their orbiting crewmates April 10. The duo will blast off from Kazakhstan and take a six-hour, four-orbit ride to their new home in space aboard the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft.

Soyuz Undocks To Carry Trio Back to Earth

Soyuz MS-02 Undocks
The Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft undocks on time and backs away from the International Space Station’s Poisk module. Credit: NASA TV

Astronaut Shane Kimbrough of NASA and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos undocked from the International Space Station at 3:57 a.m. EDT to begin their journey home.

Ryzhikov, the Soyuz commander, is at the controls of the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft. Borisenko is seated in the left seat of the Soyuz descent module and Kimbrough is in the right seat.

The crew is scheduled to land at 7:21 a.m. southeast of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.

As the Soyuz MS-02 undocked, Expedition 51 officially began under the command of NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. She and Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency), will operate the station until the arrival of two new crew members later this month.

NASA TV will air live coverage of the Soyuz MS-02 deorbit burn and landing beginning at 6 a.m. Watch live on NASA’s website.

Follow @space_station on Twitter for updates. For more information about the International Space Station, visit www.nasa.gov/station.

Astronauts Swap Command Before Monday Homecoming

Expedition 50 Change of Command Ceremony
Astronaut Shane Kimbrough (far left) handed over station command Sunday morning to Expedition 51 Commander Peggy Whitson (far right). In between (from left) are Flight Engineers Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko, who are returning to Earth Monday with Kimbrough, and Flight Engineers Thomas Pesquet and Oleg Novitskiy, who are staying in space with Whitson. Credit: NASA TV

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, and his crewmates Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, are scheduled to return to Earth on Monday, April 10 at 7:21 a.m. EDT (5:21 p.m. Kazakhstan time). The trio will land in their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.

Hatch closure is scheduled for 12:40 a.m. tomorrow. NASA Television coverage will begin at 12:15 a.m.

Together, the Expedition 50 crew members contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science during their 171-day stay aboard the orbiting laboratory. In all, the departing trio will have spent 173 days in space since their launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Oct. 19 last year.

Earlier today, Kimbrough handed over the command of station to NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. When the spacecraft undocks from station tomorrow, Expedition 51 will formally begin.

NASA Television coverage of Soyuz activities April 10 are listed below. Watch live on NASA’s website.

Timeline and NASA TV Coverage

Time (EDT)   Event

12:15 a.m.     NASA TV Coverage of Exp. 50 Farewell and Hatch Closure Begins
12:40 a.m.     Soyuz MS-02/Space Station Hatch Closure
3:30 a.m.       NASA TV Coverage of Soyuz Undocking Begins
3:56 a.m.       Soyuz Undock Command Sent
3:57 a.m.       Soyuz Undocking from International Space Station
4 a.m.            Separation Burn 1
4:01 a.m.       Separation Burn 2
6 a.m.            NASA TV Coverage of Deorbit Burn and Landing
6:28 a.m.       Soyuz Deorbit Burn (4 minutes, 38 seconds duration)
6:55 a.m.       Soyuz Module Separation (altitude ~87 miles)
6:58 a.m.       Soyuz Atmospheric Entry (altitude ~62 miles)
7:06 a.m.       Command to Open Chutes (altitude 6.7 miles)
7:21 a.m.       Exp. 50 Soyuz MS-02 Landing southeast of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan

Follow @space_station on Twitter for updates. For more information about the International Space Station, visit www.nasa.gov/station. To subscribe or unsubscribe from this list, please email heo-pao@lists.nasa.gov.

Station Prepares for April Crew Swap

Expedition 51 Crew Members
Expedition 51 crew members (from left) Fyodor Yurchikhin and Jack Fischer pose for a portrait in front of the Soyuz spacecraft mockup in Star City, Russia. Credit: NASA/Rob Navias

Three Expedition 50 crew members are getting ready to end their stay aboard the International Space Station and return to Earth April 10. Two Expedition 51 crew members, who will replace them, are in Russia finalizing their mission preparations before they launch April 20.

Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineers Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko have been living in space since October 19. The trio will enter the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft on Monday and undock from the Poisk module at 4 a.m. EDT. They will land in Kazakhstan at 7:20 a.m. ending their mission after 173 days in space. The crew departure and Soyuz landing will be televised live on NASA TV.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will take over command of the station the day before Kimbrough and his crewmates leave. Staying behind with Whitson will be European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos. This will be Whitson’s second stint as commander of the orbital laboratory having last led the Expedition 16 crew in 2008.

Back in Russia, two Expedition 51 crewmates, Jack Fischer of NASA and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, have completed their final qualification exams. They will fly to Kazakhstan on Wednesday for ceremonial duties, check out their Soyuz MS-04 rocket and wrap up mission training before launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.