While launch awaits, the science does not

Expedition 55 prime and backup crew
At the Cosmonaut Hotel crew quarters in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, the Expedition 55 prime and backup crew members pose for pictures by a Soyuz model as part of their pre-launch activities. From left to right are prime crew members Ricky Arnold of NASA, Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos and Drew Feustel of NASA, and backup crew members Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos and Nick Hague of NASA.

As the International Space Station orbits Earth with three occupants already onboard, on the ground below in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, three more crewmates are engaged in activities leading up to a March 21 liftoff on a Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft to join them. (You can watch this launch live on NASA TV, with coverage beginning at 12:45 p.m. EDT.)

Today the future Expedition 55-56 crew members, NASA Flight Engineers Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel, along with Soyuz Commander Oleg Artemyev, engaged with journalists for media day, sharing how they will continue work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science aboard humanity’s only permanently occupied microgravity laboratory. This crew will build on the trend of long-term increase in U.S. crew size from three to four, allowing NASA to maximize time dedicated time for investigative research.

Meanwhile, off the Earth, the Expedition 55 crew reconfigured the JEM Airlock in support of an upcoming experiment: Materials on ISS Experiment – Flight Facility (MISSE-FF) payload operations. This study exposes sample plates containing a variety of surface materials to the harsh environs of space outside the station for varying durations. Data collected will inform satellite designers how different materials can degrade over time—a topic of great importance when it comes to designing and building spacecraft and structures to withstand a journey through the cosmos. 

On Friday, Flight Engineer Scott Tingle of NASA will wrap up the week talking to science teachers—and lots of them—via an educational in-flight event with the National Science Teachers Association National Conference. During this downlink highlighting the Year of Education on Station, teachers from as far as the United Arab Emirates will pose their own burning questions for the astronaut and learn more about how to living—and working—is accomplished in microgravity.

Spacewalk and cargo preps punctuated with media outreach

Flight Engineers Norishige Kanai and Scott Tingle
From left, Flight Engineers Norishige Kanai and Scott Tingle take part in an in-flight media event aboard the orbiting laboratory. Image Credit: NASA TV

It’s a new day in space aboard the International Space Station, and three Expedition 55 crew members are prepping for an upcoming spacewalk and cargo-transfer activities while also sharing the wonders of our orbiting laboratory.

March 29 is the target date of the next U.S. spacewalk. To begin preparations for the excursion, the crew swapped out Extravehicular Mobility Units, or EMUs, and began resizing the suits. Also on the task list: packing up suit parts intended for return to Earth with SpaceX CRS-14.

In addition, the crewmates spent time reconfiguring the European Physiology Module rack for the future installation of ESA’s ICE Cubes Facility (ICF). The ICF will provide commercial entities simplified, low-cost access to the space station with individual experiment cubes—small investigations that could make large impacts within the scientific community.

NASA astronaut Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency shared how space station benefits humankind off the Earth, for the Earth, during two in-flight Public Affairs events live on NASA TV. The first interview was with KYW-TV in Philadelphia, while the second was with NPR’s 1A Broadcast on WAMU Radio in Washington, D.C.

Later, a reboost is planned using the Progress 69P spacecraft to lift station to the correct altitude for a Soyuz 53S undock and landing early this summer.

Investigations this week set the stage for longer missions in space

Veggie experiment
The crew continued work with Veggie-03, watering the lettuce plants, documenting growth and selecting some for consumption. Image Credit: NASA

Kicking off the new week, the Expedition 55 crew aboard the International Space Station continued studies evaluating crew health, performance and sustainability for long-duration space missions.

For one such investigation, a crewmate set up Neuromapping hardware to perform tests for Flight Day 90, conducting strapped in and free-floating body configurations. This experiment studies whether long missions can cause changes to brain structure and function, motor control and multitasking abilities, as well as how long it would take the brain and body to recover from the possible effects. Previous anecdotal evidence supplied by astronauts suggests that movement control and cognition can be affected in microgravity.

The crew also continued work with Veggie-03, watering the lettuce plants, documenting growth and selecting some for consumption. Veggie-03 supports the concept that for future long-duration space missions, a fresh food supply can be grown in space to supplement the crew while far from home.

On the ground, Expedition 55-56, consisting of Soyuz Commander Oleg Artemyev and NASA Flight Engineers Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel, checked off more reviews of launch day and rendezvous procedures in anticipation of a March 21 liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in a Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft. They will join the crew already in orbit following a March 23 docking.

New Crew Launches on Two Day Trip to Station

New Crew Launches on Two-Day Trip to Station
Three Expedition 54 crew members launched aboard the Soyuz MS-07 rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The Soyuz MS-07 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station at 2:21 a.m. EST Sunday, Dec. 17 (1:21 p.m. Baikonur time). At the time of launch, the space station flew over south central Kazakhstan, northeast of Baikonur at an altitude of about 260 statute miles. Expedition 54-55 Flight Engineers Scott Tingle of NASA, Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are now safely in orbit.

The trio will orbit the Earth for approximately two days before docking to the space station’s Rassvet module, at 3:43 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 19. NASA TV coverage of the docking will begin at 3 a.m. Tuesday.

While the crew continue on their journey, flight control teams for the space station and SpaceX Dragon are proceeding toward rendezvous and grapple of the Dragon cargo spacecraft this morning. NASA Television coverage will resume at 4:30 a.m. for Dragon arrival. Capture is expected around 6 a.m. Installation of the Dragon to the Harmony module will begin a couple hours later. NASA TV coverage of installation is set to begin at 7:30 a.m.

The Dragon launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Friday, Dec. 15, carrying more than 4,800 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies that will support dozens of the more than 250 investigations aboard the space station.

For more information about the SpaceX CRS-13 mission, visit www.nasa.gov/spacex.

For live coverage and more information about the mission, visit: https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/.

Station Gets Ready to Swap Two Crews in Five Days

Expedition 52-53 crew members
Expedition 52-53 crew members (from left) Paolo Nespoli, Sergey Ryazanskiy and Randy Bresnik are suited up for a test run of their Soyuz undocking and landing.

The Expedition 53 crew is getting ready to split up Thursday morning before another crew begins its mission next week. Soyuz Commander Sergey Ryazanskiy will pilot his crew mates Randy Bresnik of NASA and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency in the Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft back to Earth after 139 days in space. The trio is scheduled to undock from the Rassvet module at 12:14 a.m. Thursday and parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan at 3:38 a.m.

New Expedition 54 Commander Alexander Misurkin will stay onboard the orbital laboratory with Flight Engineers Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei of NASA until March. The trio have been onboard the station since Sept. 12 and will welcome a new set of crewmates next week when the Soyuz MS-07 crew ship arrives.

The next space travelers to board the station will be veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and new astronauts Scott Tingle of NASA and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. They are the Expedition 54-55 crew and are in Kazakhstan in final training ahead of their launch Sunday at 2:21 a.m. Shkaplerov, flanked by Tingle and Kanai, will take a two-day trip inside the Soyuz to the station before docking Tuesday at 3:43 a.m. for a four-month stay at the station.

Station Ramps Up for December Cargo and Crew Swaps

Expedition 54-55 Crew Members
The next crew to visit the International Space Station was in Moscow last week posing in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral for traditional ceremonies. From left are Anton Shkaplerov from Roscosmos, Scott Tingle from NASA and Norishige Kanai from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

A pair of commercial resupply missions are coming and going this week at the International Space Station. Meanwhile, a new crew has arrived at its launch site to prepare for a Dec. 17 liftoff to the orbital laboratory. All missions to and from the station this month will be televised live on NASA TV.

NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba are brushing up on their robotics skills today ahead of this week’s release of the Orbital ATK Cygnus resupply ship. Ground controllers will remotely command the Canadarm2 on Tuesday to detach Cygnus from the Unity module. While still attached to the Canadarm2, Cygnus will be used for a series of communications tests to assist NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Then on Wednesday, the two astronauts will be in the cupola commanding the Canadarm2 to release Cygnus into Earth orbit at 8:10 a.m. EST.

Just two days later on Friday, the SpaceX Dragon will launch at 1:20 p.m. from the Kennedy Space Center where it will begin a two-day trip to the space station. Flight Engineer Paolo Nespoli is cleaning up a pair of modules today to make way for the nearly 4,800 pounds of crew supplies and research gear Dragon is delivering to the station. Dragon is due to arrive Sunday at 6 a.m. when it will be captured by Vande Hei and Acaba once again operating the Canadarm2.

Three Expedition 53 crew members are due to return to Earth Dec. 14 after 139 days in space. Nespoli, Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik and Soyuz Commander Sergey Ryazanskiy will parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz MS-05 spaceship.

The homebound trio will be replaced shortly after that when the Expedition 54-55 crew launches Dec. 17 for a two-day ride to its new home in space. Veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov will blast off with two first-time astronauts Scott Tingle of NASA and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to begin a four-month tour on the orbital laboratory. The crew has arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and is in final launch preparations.

Robotic Arm Reaches Out and Grapples Cygnus

Robotic Arm Reaches Out and Grapples Cygnus
The Canadarm2 robotic arm is seen grappling the Orbital ATK Cygnus resupply ship on Nov. 14, 2017. Credit: NASA TV

At 5:04 a.m., Expedition 53 Flight Engineers Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) and Randy Bresnik of NASA successfully captured Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft using the International Space Station’s robotic arm. Robotic ground controllers will position Cygnus for installation to the orbiting laboratory’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module.

NASA Television coverage of installation will begin at 6:15 a.m., and installation of the Cygnus spacecraft to the space station is expected to be completed later this morning.

Learn more about the Orbital ATK CRS-8 mission by going to the mission home page at: http://www.nasa.gov/orbitalatk. Join the conversation on Twitter by following @Space_Station.

Pope Francis and Expedition 53 Crew Exchange Thoughts About Humanity’s Deepest and Oldest Questions

Pope Francis calls ISS
On a screen at right in NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston, Pope Francis speaks to the crew aboard the International Space Station on Oct. 26. Image Credit: NASA

In the middle of a workday where the Expedition 53 crew performed a routine emergency drill and additional ocular ultrasounds to map any eye changes, there was, most certainly, a higher (phone) call that actually came from more than 200 miles below the International Space Station at the Vatican: Pope Francis phoned in.

It was no ordinary ESA (European Space Agency) in-flight event. Though the Pope did ask the requisite question—what motivated them to become astronauts/cosmonauts—the conference delved quickly into deeper topics, like the crew’s thoughts of humankind’s place in the universe. Each crew member took turns speaking to Pope Francis through ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli of Italy, who translated.

Nespoli indicated that while he remains perplexed at humankind’s role, he feels their main objective is enriching the knowledge around us. The more we know, the more we realize we don’t. Part of space station’s ultimate mission is filling in those gaps and revealing the mysteries locked away in the cosmos.

Cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky of Roscosmos told the Pope that it was an honor to continue his grandfather’s legacy aboard the orbiting laboratory. Ryazansky’s grandfather was a chief engineer of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite to launch to space. Ryazansky said he is now part of the future of humanity, helping to open frontiers of new technology.

Commander Randy Bresnik of NASA spoke candidly to Pope Francis, saying that one cannot serve aboard the space station and not be touched to their soul. From Bresnik’s unique vantage orbiting Earth, it is obvious there are no borders. Also evident: a fragile band of atmosphere protecting billions of people below.

Pope Francis said that while society is individualistic, we need collaboration—and there is no better example of international teamwork and cohesiveness than the space station. It is the ultimate human experiment, showing that people from diverse backgrounds can band together to solve some of the most daunting problems facing the world.

“The totality is greater than the sum of its parts,” Pope Francis observed.

At the end of the call, the Pope thanked his new friends, offered his blessings and asked that they, too, pray for him in return.

Expedition 53 Inspires the Next Generation, Learns More About How the Human Body Responds to Space

Commander Randy Bresnik
Commander Randy Bresnik addresses students in Kiev, Ukraine, during an in-flight event Oct. 25. Image Credit: NASA TV

Mid-week, the crew of Expedition 53 completed tasks to investigate the various ways microgravity affects the human body and shared the benefits of the International Space Station with students in Kiev, Ukraine, during a Public Affairs in-flight event.

At 11 a.m. EDT, Commander Randy Bresnik of NASA spoke with U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch live on NASA TV, and she moderated questions from Ukrainian and U.S. Embassy students eager to hear more on what it takes to be an astronaut aboard the orbiting laboratory. Bresnik spoke of his extensive training regimen before embarking on his mission, but reiterated that working together cohesively with a team and getting along with others ranked at the top of needed skills for an explorer. Bresnik also touted fellow crewmate Flight Engineer Joe Acaba of NASA’s upcoming project on Friday: harvesting lettuce (five kinds, no less) that has been growing in space. He reminded the students that seeds may be a key component to deep space missions due to their small space requirements, making them perfect for packing into a compact spacecraft. Growing food is also the most sustainable option for crews hoping to live on the Red Planet for an extended period of time. Before closing out the event, Bresnik told the students to always nurture their thirst for knowledge, as it’s a trait that can be found among all astronauts and cosmonauts.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Paolo Nespoli took part in Day 2 of the 11-day study for Astronaut’s Energy Requirements for Long-Term Space Flight (Energy), an investigation zeroing in on the side effects of space travel. Today, he collected water samples from the station, continued with urine collection and stowed the deployed Pulmonary Function System equipment. The crew, as a whole, logged their food and drink consumption, furthering beefing up critical data for investigators. Physicians will examine metabolic rates, urine content and bone density to determine energy requirements for even longer missions in deep space. Since astronauts often lose body mass during extended stays for reasons that remain unclear, specifics about the crew’s metabolism and activities, as well as other conditions, help ensure they are properly nourished for their demanding schedules in zero-g.

A small amount of Freon (about 100 milliliters) leaked out from a small nanosatellite poised to be launched from Kibo on Friday. There is no risk to crew health and safety and no risk to station hardware. Teams remain on track to deploy this nanosatellite Friday.

Culmination of Spacewalks Leads into Studies on Crew Health and Performance

aurora borealis
A spectacular aurora borealis, or “northern lights,” over Canada is sighted from the International Space Station near the highest point of its orbital path. Image Credit: NASA

After a trio of spacewalks this month, including the final one conducted last Friday by Commander Randy Bresnik and Flight Engineer Joe Acaba of NASA, the Expedition 53 crew returned to a schedule of full-time science this week.

Today, the crew explored how lighting aboard the International Space Station affects their performance and health. One such investigation is called Lighting Effects, which studies the impact of the change from fluorescent light bulbs to LEDs. By adjusting intensity and color, investigators on the ground will use crew feedback to determine if new lights can improve crew circadian rhythms, sleep and cognitive performance.

Blood and urine samples were also collected and stowed in the Minus Eighty Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS, or MELFI, marking Flight Day 30 for the Biochemical Profile and Repository experiments. Specific proteins and chemicals in the samples are used as biomarkers, or indicators of health. Armed with a database of test results, scientists can learn more about how spaceflight changes the human body and protect future astronauts on a journey to Mars based on their findings.

Expedition 53 is also preparing a microsatellite carrying an optical imaging system payload for deployment. Its operation in low-Earth orbit will attempt to solidify the concept that these small satellites are viable investigative platforms that can support critical operations and host advanced payloads.