Today’s Advanced Research Goes From Free-flying Robots to Anti-Gravity Pants

Astronaut Anne McClain checks out the new Astrobee hardware
NASA astronaut Anne McClain checks out the new Astrobee robotics hardware earlier this year inside the Japanese Kibo laboratory module.

Robotics, combustion and human research were the primary focus of today’s science schedule aboard the International Space Station. The Expedition 59 crewmembers also checked out U.S. spacesuits and specialized pants designed to counteract some of the effects of living in microgravity.

Astrobee, a tiny cube-shaped free-flying robotic assistant, is being tested aboard the orbital lab for its sighting and motion abilities. Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) set up Astrobee for more mobility tests today inside the Japanese Kibo laboratory module. The device may support routine maintenance tasks and lab monitoring capabilities. Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter delivered Astrobee to the station April 19.

The safe observation of how fuels and materials burn in microgravity takes place in the space station’s Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR). The research takes place in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module and may help engineers design more fuel-efficient spacecraft engines and safer, less flammable environments. NASA astronaut Christina Koch replaced a burner and igniter tip in the CIR to maintain continuing combustion research operations.

Flight Engineer Anne McClain of NASA attached cuffs to her legs and sensors to her chest for a series of blood pressure checks and ultrasound scans today. The Vascular Echo biomedical study from CSA, ongoing since March 2015, analyzes an astronaut’s cardiovascular system for conditions such as arterial stiffness.

U.S. spacesuits continue to be serviced after a set of three spacewalks that took place earlier this year. Astronaut Nick Hague cleaned the suit’s cooling loops, cycled their pressure valves and tested water samples inside the Quest airlock where U.S. spacewalks are staged.

Cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Alexey Ovchinin have been training this week to use the Lower Body Negative Pressure suit. The Russian suit, also known as Chibis, counteracts the upward fluid shifts in the human body caused by microgravity. This may alleviate the head and eye pressure reported by astronauts. An easily recognizable symptom of these fluid shifts that all crews experience is “puffy face.”

Crew Preps for Split, Studies Space Effects on Human Body

The aurora australis, or "southern lights," highlights a starry nighttime orbital pass
The aurora australis, or “southern lights,” highlights a starry nighttime orbital pass as the International Space Station orbited 269 miles above the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia.

The Expedition 59 crew will split up later this month when three International Space Station residents return to Earth. The other three crewmembers today practiced evacuating the orbiting lab in the unlikely event of an emergency.

Station Commander Oleg Kononenko will depart home with Flight Engineers Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques inside the Soyuz MS-11 crew ship on June 24. The trio have been living in space since Dec. 3 and will have orbited Earth for 204 days after landing in Kazakhstan. The commander spent the day Thursday collecting cargo for stowage and readying the homebound Soyuz.

The three crewmembers that are staying behind conducted an emergency drill during the afternoon. Flight Engineers Alexey Ovchinin, Christina Koch and Nick Hague conducted an emergency simulation and rehearsed quickly entering their Soyuz lifeboat, undocking and descending to Earth.

Human research continued full speed ahead today to help doctors keep astronauts healthy in space. McClain and Hague once again collected their breath samples for the Airway Monitoring study. The experiment studies airway inflammation as crewmembers on space missions are at an increased risk of breathing free-floating dust and particles due to the microgravity environment. Results could improve the mission environment and optimize crew health for successful long-term missions. Saint-Jacques participated in ultrasound scans of his neck, gut, heart and leg throughout the day. The ground-assisted Vascular Echo scans give flight surgeons insight into an astronaut’s cardiovascular condition.

The crew also worked on robotics power cables and the installation of a small satellite deployer. Koch installed cables in the Unity module during the morning to provide backup power for the Canadarm2 robotic arm. McClain spent the majority of her day in Japan’s Kibo laboratory module installing hardware that will soon eject a set of CubeSats outside the station for research in Earth orbit.

The two cosmonauts, Kononenko and Ovchinin, spent some time in the morning exploring ways to counteract the effects of microgravity. The duo tested a unique suit that draws body fluids towards the feet to minimize head and eye pressure.

Station Biomedical and Behavioral Studies Informing Future Missions

The Earth's limb and the bright points of light of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter
The Earth’s limb and the bright points of light of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter were pictured July 2015 by astronaut Scott Kelly.

The Expedition 59 crew collected blood and breath samples today to test new biomedical gear and protect future astronauts going to the Moon and Mars. The orbital residents also participated in a pair of behavioral studies aboard the International Space Station.

The five-year-old Airway Monitoring study from the European Space Agency is analyzing exhaled Nitric Oxide in an astronaut’s breath to detect dust and other toxins. NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Anne McClain collected a series of breath samples for the health study today in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module. Future lunar or Martian astronauts could inhale dust collected in their habitats or on their spacesuits potentially inflaming their airways. Monitoring a crewmember’s airways could improve the mission environment and optimize crew health for a successful long-term mission.

David Saint-Jacques collected blood samples during the morning and placed them inside the Bio-Analyzer from the Canadian Space Agency. The new device supports the Life Science Research System and rapidly analyzes molecular and cellular properties of biomedical samples aboard the space station.

Saint-Jacques and McClain later took turns jotting down their impressions of living in a confined space environment separated from family and friends. Crew inputs from the Behavioral Core Measures study could provide insights to doctors seeking a standardized method to measure and assess behavioral health in astronauts.

Flight Engineer Christina Koch started her day taking tests for the Standard Measures study that observes a variety of cognitive functions such as memory, attention and orientation. Later, she checked out spacesuit gloves then stowed hardware from the Capillary Structures life support systems study.

Health Checkups, Station Gardening and Space Science Fill Tuesday

The space station flies above the Gulf of St. Lawrence
(From bottom to top) The Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter, the Soyuz MS-12 crew ship and the Progress 72 cargo craft are pictured attached to the International Space Station as the orbiting complex flew 258 miles above the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Four Expedition 59 astronauts underwent periodic health checkups and regularly scheduled eye scans today. The International Space Station residents also had time set aside for space gardening, furnace work, crew ship packing and radiation checks.

Astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch started Tuesday morning checking each other’s vital signs including temperature, blood pressure, pulse and respiratory rate. They were followed shortly afterward by Flight Engineers Nick Hague and David Saint-Jacques.

In the afternoon, the Koch and Hague swapped roles as Crew Medical Officer (CMO) and used an ultrasound device to scan each other’s eyes. Saint-Jacques then took over as CMO and activated the optical coherence tomography gear to image the retinas of Koch and Hague. The ongoing eye exams help flight surgeons understand how long-term weightlessness affects vision and the shape of the eye.

McClain and Koch spent a few moments in the middle of their eye checks today thinning and watering plants for the Veg-04 botany experiment. The research takes place in a specialized greenhouse and explores the feasibility of a continuous fresh food production system in Europe’s Columbus laboratory module.

After the vital sign checks, Hague partnered up with McClain to reconfigure and install an advanced furnace in the Japanese Kibo laboratory module. The Electrostatic Levitation Furnace enables the observation of thermophysical properties and the synthesis of high temperature materials on the station.

Commander Oleg Kononenko continued readying the Soyuz MS-11 crew ship for its departure June 24 carrying him, McClain and Saint-Jacques back to Earth. Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin collected radiation sensors from the station’s U.S. side and downloaded measurement readings. The Russian duo also trained to operate a unique suit that counteracts microgravity and draws body fluids towards the feet to minimize head pressure.

Station Trio Prepping for June 24 Homecoming

The six-member Expedition 59 crew
The six-member Expedition 59 crew poses for a portrait inside Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus commercial space freighter dubbed the S.S. Roger B. Chaffee. Clockwise from bottom are cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Kononenko; NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Nick Hague; Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques and NASA astronaut Anne McClain.

Three Expedition 59 crewmembers are getting ready to end their stay at the International Space Station after six and a half months in space. Meanwhile, mission scientists continue exploring how microgravity impacts the human body.

Flight Engineers Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques will flank Commander Oleg Kononenko inside the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft when they return to Earth on June 24. McClain videotaped herself in virtual reality talking about her first space mission today using a 360-degree camera in Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. The trio have been in space since Dec. 3.

Saint-Jacques and Kononenko began gathering items to take back home inside their Soyuz crew ship. The duo collected personal items such as shoes and clothes as well as tools and trash that will be soon be stowed aboard the Soyuz for the ride to Earth.

Saint-Jacques also researched ways to supplement crew nutrition during future long-term space missions, such as missions to the Moon and Mars. Food stowed for long periods can lose nutritional value. The BioNutrients-1 study is exploring manufacturing nutritional compounds in space to maintain healthy crews for successful missions.

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Nick Hague started Monday morning by drawing blood samples and spinning them in a centrifuge before stowing them in science freezer. Doctors on the ground will analyze the samples to detect critical changes to a crewmember’s physiology while living in space. The pair also participated in visual acuity tests using an eye chart in the afternoon.

Three-Day Weekend for Astronauts as Cosmonauts Study Space Exercises

The Mediterranean, north Africa, Italy and Greece
This view from the International Space Station looks from northeast to southwest, from Greece, Italy and across the Mediterranean Sea to Libya. The Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft is pictured in the foreground.

Four Expedition 59 astronauts are taking a three-day weekend aboard the International Space Station after packing a U.S. space freighter for return to Earth. The two cosmonauts focused on exercise studies, physics research and life support maintenance on the Russian side of the orbiting lab.

NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Anne McClain and Nick Hague and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques are relaxing today following last weekend’s SpaceX Dragon cargo loading and closeout activities. The quartet spent the first part of the week cleaning and stowing hardware after Dragon returned to Earth Monday full of completed experiments and station gear for analysis.

Station Commander Oleg Kononenko attached sensors to Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin today monitoring his vital signs during an exercise study to determine the most effective workouts in space. Ovchinin cleaned up afterward then researched plasma crystals, or highly charged micro-particles that form self-organized structures in microgravity. The duo also checked life support systems, configured communications gear and inspected the structural integrity of the station’s Russian segment.

BEAM Opens for Tests; Crew Studies Biotech and Fluid Physics

NASA astronaut Nick Hague
NASA astronaut Nick Hague assembles and installs the Water Storage System inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module.

The International Space Station’s BEAM opened up today for environmental sampling and cargo stowage activities as NASA continues to test the commercial module.  The Expedition 59 crew also explored biotechnology and fluid physics to improve Earth applications and space habitability.

Astronauts Anne McClain, Christina Koch and David Saint-Jacques checked out BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, today to sample the air for microbes and stow spare hardware inside. BEAM had its stay at the station’s Tranquility module extended in November 2017 after a successful installation and expansion in the spring of 2016. The soft material module is providing extra storage space at the orbiting lab and additional technology demonstrations that may inform future missions.

After the BEAM work, McClain sampled algae grown inside the Photobioreactor to explore the viability of closed, hybrid life-support systems in space. Koch wrapped up a study observing how fluids slosh and wave in space to improve satellite fuel systems and increase knowledge of Earth’s oceans and climate.

Flight Engineer Nick Hague spent the majority of Thursday installing Water Storage System components in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module. The space plumbing work consisted of installing a variety of hoses including power and data cables to the main Potable Tank Assembly.

Commander Oleg Kononenko and Alexey Ovchinin started the morning taking breath and blood pressure measurements for a cardiopulmonary study. Next, they tested communication systems in the Soyuz MS-11 crew ship and spent the rest of the afternoon on a variety of Russian science and maintenance activities.

Eye and Artery Scans, Robotics and Fluid Studies for Earth and Space Benefits

The six-member Expedition 59 crew
The six-member Expedition 59 crew gathers for a portrait inside of the vestibule between the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft and the Harmony module the day before the commercial space freighter’s departure.

The International Space Station residents continued exploring today what living off the Earth for long periods is doing to their body. The Expedition 59 crew also researched ways to improve life in space and even filmed a virtual experience aboard the orbiting lab.

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch took turns serving as Crew Medical Officer during a round of ultrasound eye exams Wednesday morning. The duo scanned the eyes of Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineers Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques ahead of their homecoming June 24. Astronauts have reported vision issues during and after their missions. The eye imaging helps doctors understand how microgravity impacts the cornea, lens, optic nerve and the shape of the eyeball.

Saint-Jacques once again had his blood pressure checked and arteries scanned with an ultrasound device to investigate how weightlessness affects the cardiovascular system. Arterial stiffness has been observed in space and the study may help offset the negative effects improving life in space and on Earth. The astronaut from the Canadian Space Agency also recorded a virtual reality video of his biomedical activities for later viewing on Earth.

McClain monitored a small cube-shaped robot called the Astrobee and tested its ability to float around the Kibo laboratory module autonomously. Engineers are assessing the free-flying device’s potential to perform routine maintenance duties and provide additional lab monitoring capabilities.

Koch wrapped up the day in Europe’s Columbus laboratory module setting up a fluid physics study that has been observing sloshing and waves on the station since 2016. The Fluidics study uses a motorized instrument to slosh fluids in tanks with video and data downlinked to researchers on the ground. Results could optimize the design of satellite fuel systems and increase the understanding of Earth’s oceans and climate.

US, Russian Spaceships Depart Amid Physics and Biology on Station

June 4, 2019: International Space Station Configuration
Four spaceships are docked at the space station including Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter and Russia’s Progress 72 resupply ship and the Soyuz MS-11 and MS-12 crew ships.

A pair of U.S. and Russian resupply ships have departed the International Space Station this week. Russia’s Progress 71 (71P) cargo craft undocked this morning and the SpaceX Dragon returned to Earth Monday.

The 71P, packed with trash and unused hardware, undocked from the aft end of the Zvezda service module today at 3:40 a.m. EDT. It reentered Earth’s atmosphere and safely burned up over a remote portion of the Pacific Ocean. This completes a mission that began when the 71P launched Nov. 16 and delivered almost three tons of cargo two days later to the Expedition 57 crew.

Amidst all the cargo transfers and spaceship departures, the Expedition 59 crew found time for continuing space research. Monday saw astronauts David Saint-Jacques and Christina Koch explore the possibility of fueling satellites in space and separating gases and fluids in advanced life support systems. Flight Engineer Anne McClain cleaned an incubator after the completion of an experiment that observed altered gene expressions occurring in space.

Today, the crew is conducting a variety of biomedical research and space botany.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague examined the eyes of cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Alexey Ovchinin today using optical coherence tomography hardware. Saint-Jacques had his leg artery remotely scanned by a doctor on the ground studying cardiovascular health in space.

Koch set up botany hardware today in Europe’s Columbus laboratory module for ongoing research into growing a continuous supply of fresh food in space. McClain continued incubator closeout activities in Japan’s Kibo laboratory module.

Dragon Completes Cargo Return Mission with Splashdown in Pacific

The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship
The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship is pictured moments before its release from the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. Credit: @Astro_DavidS

SpaceX‘s Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 5:48 p.m. EDT (2:48 p.m PDT), approximately 202 miles southwest of Long Beach, California, marking the end of the company’s 17th contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA. The spacecraft returned more than 4,200 pounds of valuable scientific experiments and other cargo.

Some of the scientific investigations Dragon returned to Earth include:

Observing Protein Crystal Growth

NASA’s Biophysics-6 experiment looks at the growth of two proteins of interest in cancer treatment and radiation protection. Scientists are using ground-based predictions and in-space X-ray crystallography to determine which proteins benefit from crystallization in microgravity, where some proteins can grow larger and with fewer imperfections.

Microalgae Biosynthesis in Microgravity

Microalgae Biosynthesis in Microgravity (MicroAlgae) studies the effects of microgravity on Haematococcus pluvialis, an algae capable of producing a powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin. It could provide a readily available dietary supplement to promote astronaut health on long-duration space exploration missions. A community college student and alumnae of the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program proposed the research, and NCAS is engaging community colleges across the U.S. to conduct ground studies for comparison to the in-orbit investigation.

Genes in Space

On May 23, astronauts aboard the space station successfully edited DNA using CRISPR/Cas9 technology for the first time in space, working on the Genes in Space-6 investigation. This milestone advances understanding of how DNA repair mechanisms function in space and supports better safeguards to protect space explorers from DNA damage. Genetic damage caused by cosmic radiation poses a serious risk to space travelers, especially those on long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars. CRISPR/Cas9 now joins a growing portfolio of molecular biology techniques available on the ISS National Lab.

These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations aimed at keeping astronauts healthy during space travel and demonstrating technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, including missions to the Moon by 2024 and on to Mars. Space station research also provides opportunities for other U.S. government agencies, private industry, and academic and research institutions to conduct microgravity research that leads to new technologies, medical treatments, and products that improve life on Earth.

For more than 18 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 230 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,500 research investigations from researchers in 106 countries.

Learn more about station activities by following the space station blog, @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.