Flying Robots, Ultrasound Eye Scans Top Science Schedule

NASA astronaut and Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy sets up an Astrobee robotic assistant
NASA astronaut and Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy sets up an Astrobee robotic assistant, one of a trio of cube-shaped, free-flying robots, for a test of its mobility and vision system inside the Kibo laboratory module.

Flying robots and ultrasound eye scans were the top science activities aboard the International Space Station today. The Expedition 63 crew also serviced a variety of lab hardware and tested a wearable health monitor.

Free-flying robotic assistants called AstroBees were checked out as Commander Chris Cassidy once again tested their ability to autonomously navigate the orbiting lab. The veteran astronaut then shut down and docked the small cube-shaped devices inside the Kibo laboratory module from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency).

Students on Earth will soon get a chance to “test-drive” the Astrobees in a competition for the best program to control the robotic devices. Researchers are also exploring the Astrobees’ potential to perform routine station duties so the crew has more time for critical science.

Cassidy also tackled more mundane tasks during the morning as he worked on space plumbing duties in the Kibo lab. The commander wiped leaking water and inspected plumbing connections in Kibo’s Water Recovery System.

In the afternoon, Cassidy had his eyes scanned by three-time station Flight Engineer Anatoly Ivanishin using an ultrasound device. The ultrasound exam, with real-time inputs from doctors on the ground, looks at the health of the retina, cornea and optic nerve.

Ivanishin started his workday swapping fuel bottles inside the Combustion Integrated Rack which enables safe studies of fuels, flames and soot in microgravity. First-time space flyer Ivan Vagner worked during the morning on Russian power supply systems before servicing water tanks in the Zvezda service module. Just after lunchtime, Vagner attached the Holter Monitor, a non-invasive medical device, to his chest that will measure his heart’s electrical activity.

NASA Completes Negotiations for Additional Soyuz Seat in Fall

The International Space Station
The International Space Station is pictured from space shuttle Endeavour after its undocking in February 2010.

To ensure the agency keeps its commitment for safe operations via a continuous U.S. presence aboard the International Space Station until commercial crew capabilities are routinely available, NASA has completed negotiations with the State Space Corporation Roscosmos to purchase one additional Soyuz seat for a launch this fall.

The agency received no responses from U.S. suppliers to a synopsis issued in the fall of 2019 for crew transportation in 2020. Boeing and SpaceX are in the final stages of development and testing of new human space transportation systems that will launch astronauts from American soil, including NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission scheduled for launch no earlier than May 27.

In case you missed it, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine shared why the Demo-2 mission is essential.

Station Science Promoting Earth, Space Therapies Ahead of Crew Swap

An aurora above the city lights and a beneath a starry sky
An aurora, above the city lights and a beneath a starry sky, fades into an orbital sunrise as the space station orbited above the Pacific Ocean off the coast of North America.

Expedition 62 is continuing a host of studies this week exploring how microgravity affects the human body. Researchers use the weightlessness environment of the International Space Station to provide advanced therapies for healthier humans on Earth and in space.

NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan wore a specialized suit, testing its ability to pull body fluids towards an astronaut’s feet. The Lower Body Negative Pressure suit is designed to prevent the space-caused upward fluid shifts and pooling in the head that create pressure on the eyes and cranium.

Fellow NASA astronaut Jessica Meir measured Morgan’s eye pressure with a tonometer Wednesday morning as doctors on the ground monitored in real-time. Commander Oleg Skripochka assisted the pair with the hardware and suit activities while the research operations took place in the Zvezda service module.

The trio split up in the afternoon for more space science and station maintenance tasks. The station residents also continued their daily routine of cardio and resistance exercises aboard the orbiting lab.

After lunchtime, Morgan set up gear that monitors airflow and where particles settle on the station. Meir tended to bone cell samples for insights into Earth ailments such as osteoporosis. Skripochka serviced an oxygen generator and plumbing hardware in the station’s Russian segment.

The space station will also boost its orbit on Thursday as it gears up for a crew swap in April. Expedition 62 is due to return to Earth on April 17 aboard the Soyuz MS-15 crew ship.

The Expedition 63 crew will launch to the station on April 9 inside the Soyuz MS-16 crew ship. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy will lead Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner during the 195-day station mission.

Finally, the Cygnus space freighter that left the station on Jan. 31 ended its mission Tuesday night. It burned up safely in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean after several weeks of orbital engineering tests. The newest Cygnus is attached to the station’s Harmony module where it will stay until May.

Astronauts Relaxing Ahead of U.S. Cargo Mission

Noctilucent clouds, or night shining clouds
Noctilucent clouds, or night shining clouds, the highest clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere, are pictured from the International Space Station orbiting 269 miles above the South Pacific.

Two NASA astronauts are relaxing for the next couple of days as a U.S. space delivery nears its launch to the International Space Station. The Expedition 62 Commander is staying busy with the research and the upkeep of Russian orbital lab systems.

Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan are taking it easy Thursday and Friday as they look ahead to the arrival of the Cygnus cargo craft from Northrop Grumman. Cygnus launches Friday at 3:43 p.m. EST and will reach the station less than two days later. Morgan will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and grapple Cygnus on Sunday at about 4 a.m. Meir will assist and monitor the space freighter’s approach and rendezvous.

Mission controllers will take over and remotely guide the Cygnus in the grips of Canadarm2 and install it to the Unity module. The two NASA astronauts will open Cygnus’ hatch Sunday afternoon and begin unloading about 7,500 pounds of new science, crew supplies and station hardware. NASA TV will cover all the launch, capture and installation activities live.

Roscosmos Commander Oleg Skripochka started his day jogging on a treadmill for an exercise study. Afterward, the veteran cosmonaut worked on orbital plumbing tasks and housecleaning tasks in the station’s Russian segment.

Astronauts Wrap Up Third Spacewalk for Cosmic Particle Detector Repairs

Astronauts Luca Parmitano and Andrew Morgan
Astronauts Luca Parmitano and Andrew Morgan are pictured during a spacewalk to continue upgrading the station’s cosmic particle detector, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

Expedition 61 Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan concluded their spacewalk at 12:33 p.m. EST. During the six hour and two minute spacewalk, the two astronauts successfully installed a new cooling system for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS).

The crew completed the primary task to install the upgraded cooling system, called the upgraded tracker thermal pump system (UTTPS), completed the power and data cable connection for the system, and connected all eight cooling lines from the AMS to the new system. The intricate connection work required making a clean cut for each existing stainless steel tube connected to the AMS then connecting it to the new system through a process of metalworking known as swaging.

The astronauts also completed an additional task to install an insulating blanket on the nadir side of the AMS to replace the heat shield and blanket they removed during the first spacewalk to begin the repair work. The flight control team on Earth initiated power-up of the system and confirmed it is receiving power and data.

It is the first long day of a very busy several weeks for the space station crew, with two cargo resupply spacecraft launching to the station loaded with science investigations; a SpaceX Dragon is scheduled to lift off at 12:51 p.m. Wednesday, and a Russian Progress is set to launch Friday at 4:34 a.m. Crew members then will be focused on the spacecrafts’ arrivals and associated work. Meanwhile, teams on Earth will evaluate the date for the planned fourth spacewalk to conduct leak checks for the spectrometer’s refurbished cooling lines and complete the work to resume operations of the cosmic ray detector.

For more information about the AMS science and spacewalks, listen to the recent podcasts:

Parmitano has now conducted five spacewalks in his career for a total of 26 hours and 53 minutes, and Morgan has logged 39 hours and 32 minutes during six spacewalks since his arrival on the station in July. It was the 11th spacewalk at the station this year. Space station crew members have conducted a total of 224 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory. Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 58 days 15 hours and 43 minutes working outside the station.

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

HTV-8 Launch Scrubbed for Tonight

The Japanese HTV-6 cargo vehicle
The Japanese HTV-6 cargo vehicle is seen during final approach to the International Space Station. Like HTV-8, HTV-6 was loaded with more than 4 tons of supplies, water, spare parts and experiment hardware. Credit: NASA

Mission Control in Houston informed the crew aboard the International Space Station that tonight’s launch of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) unpiloted H-II Transfer Vehicle-8 (HTV-8) cargo spacecraft was scrubbed due to a fire on or near the launch pad at Tanegashima Space Center. The astronauts are safe aboard the station and well supplied.

 

More information will be provided as it becomes available.

Dragon Cargo Mission Launch No Earlier than May 3

The International Space Station
The International Space Station was pictured by an Expedition 56 crewmember aboard a departing Soyuz crew ship on Oct. 4, 2018.

NASA has requested SpaceX move off from May 1 for the launch of the company’s 17th commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station.

On April 29, the space station team identified an issue with one of the station’s Main Bus Switching Units that distributes power to two of the eight power channels on the station.  There are no immediate concerns for the crew or the station. Teams are working on a plan to robotically replace the failed unit and restore full power to the station system. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available. The earliest possible launch opportunity is no earlier than Friday, May 3.

Expedition 58 Crew Congratulates NASA and SpaceX after Crew Dragon Departure

Crew Dragon spacecraft on it's way back to Earth
Crew Dragon spacecraft on it’s way back to Earth after undocking from the International Space Station at 2:32 am EST on March 8, 2019

On behalf of the Expedition 58 crew, NASA Astronaut Anne McClain takes time to congratulate the NASA and SpaceX teams immediately following the Crew Dragon spacecraft’s undocking from the International Space Station at 2:32 a.m. EST Friday, March 8.

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.