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.

Astronauts Prep for Spacewalk and Check Science Gear

Astronaut Mark Vande Hei
Astronaut Mark Vande Hei is pictured tethered to the outside of the U.S. Destiny laboratory module during a spacewalk on Oct. 10, 2017.

Two NASA astronauts are getting ready to go on their mission’s third spacewalk on Friday. In the midst of those preparations, the Expedition 53 crew also worked on science gear exploring a wide variety of space phenomena.

Commander Randy Bresnik is preparing to go on the third spacewalk this month with NASA astronaut Joe Acaba. Astronauts Paolo Nespoli and Mark Vande Hei will assist the spacewalking duo in and out of their spacesuits on Friday.

The spacewalkers will replace a camera light on the Canadarm2’s newly-installed Latching End Effector and install a high-definition camera on the starboard truss. Other tasks include the replacement of a fuse on Dextre’s payload platform and the removal of thermal insulation on two electrical spare parts housed on stowage platforms.

Bresnik started his day working on a specialized camera that photograph’s meteors entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Acaba finally wrapped up the day configuring a microscope inside the Fluids Integrated Rack.

Nespoli, from the European Space Agency, set up the new Mini-Exercise Device-2 (MED-2) for a workout session today. Researchers are exploring the MED-2 for its ability to provide effective workouts while maximizing space aboard a spacecraft.

Crew Checks New Exercise Gear, CREAM Observes Cosmic Rays

Astronaut Peggy Whitson
Astronaut Peggy Whitson is pictured at work inside the Unity module. Unity is the node that connects the Russian segment of the space station to the U.S. segment.

A pair of Expedition 52 astronauts checked out new, smaller exercise gear today. The crew also worked on a variety of human research while a new cosmic ray detector has begun scanning outer space.

The space station’s two newest astronauts, Paolo Nespoli and Randy Bresnik, joined forces today to measure the effectiveness of the new Mini-Exercise Device-2 (MED2). The MED2 is smaller and less bulky than other space exercise equipment providing more habitability room on a spacecraft. The duo worked out on MED2 and took photographs to demonstrate its ability to provide motion and resistance during an exercise session.

Flight Engineer Jack Fischer scanned his leg artery with an ultrasound device after a short exercise during the afternoon. The Vascular Echo study is examining how blood vessels and the heart adapt to microgravity. Astronaut Peggy Whitson spent her afternoon swapping cell cultures inside the Advanced Space Experiment Processor.

The Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass Investigation, or CREAM, is now observing cosmic rays coming from across the galaxy. CREAM was attached to the outside of the Kibo lab module on Tuesday after a handoff from the Canadian robotic arm to the Japanese robotic arm. CREAM was delivered aboard the SpaceX Dragon and will help determine the origin of the cosmic rays and measure their features across the energy spectrum.


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Cosmic Ray Study Prepped for Installation After Monday Eclipse

Solar Eclipse
The solar eclipse was photographed by Expedition 52 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin aboard the International Space Station on Monday Aug. 21.

Overnight, robotics controllers extracted a new astrophysics experiment from the trunk of the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft. The Canadarm2 will hand off the new astronomy gear to the Japanese robotic arm which will then install it outside the Kibo laboratory module.

Dubbed CREAM, short for Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass Investigation, it will observe a variety of cosmic rays and measure their charges. The experiment is an extension of what started as high-altitude, long-duration balloon flights over Antarctica. The orbital data is expected to be several orders of magnitude greater than that collected in Earth’s atmosphere.

The six Expedition 52 crew members had a once-in-a-lifetime experience Monday as they witnessed the solar eclipse from space. The orbiting crewmates employed a multitude of cameras to photograph the eclipse. They captured stunning views of the moon’s shadow against the Earth with a high definition camcorder as the eclipse darkened a coast-to-coast swath of the United States.


Get weekly video highlights at: http://jscfeatures.jsc.nasa.gov/videoupdate/

Eye Check Day on Station, Dragon Gets Ready For Launch

The full moon
The full moon is pictured from the International Space Station.

The Expedition 52 crew members pulled out their medical hardware today for a variety of eye checks and other biomedical research. The station residents are also making space and packing up gear for next week’s cargo delivery aboard the SpaceX Dragon.

The crew each participated in a series of eye exams throughout Thursday working with optical coherence tomography (OCT) gear. OCT is a medical imaging technique that captures imagery of the retina using light waves. A pair of cosmonauts then peered into a fundoscope for a more detailed look at the eye’s interior. The regularly scheduled eye checks were conducted with real-time input from doctors on the ground.

SpaceX completed a static fire test of its Falcon 9 rocket today at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The Dragon cargo craft will be perched atop the Falcon 9 for a targeted launch Monday at 12:31 p.m. EDT.

Once in space, Dragon will conduct a series of orbital maneuvers navigating its way to the station Wednesday morning. Finally, Dragon will reach its capture point ten meters away from the complex. From there, astronauts Jack Fischer and Paolo Nespoli will command the Canadarm2 to reach out and grapple Dragon. Next, ground controllers remotely guide Dragon still attached to the Canadarm2 and install it to the Harmony module.

The crew is clearing space on the International Space Station today and packing gear to stow on Dragon after it arrives next week. NASA TV begins its pre-launch coverage Sunday covering Dragon’s science payloads. Monday’s launch coverage begins at noon. NASA TV will also broadcast Dragon’s arrival Wednesday beginning at 5:30 a.m.

Astronauts Work Muscle Scans and Science Gear Upgrades

Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer
Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer work on station systems inside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module.

From leg muscle scans to observing materials burning at high temperatures, the Expedition 52 crew continued researching what happens when you live in space. The space residents also upgraded electronics gear and installed new science racks.

Astronauts Randy Bresnik and Paolo Nespoli are barely a week into their 4-1/2 month long mission and are already exploring what space is doing to their bodies. The astronauts took ultrasound scans of their legs today to assess the changes their leg muscles and tendons are undergoing. The data will later be compared to the condition of their muscles before and after their spaceflight mission.

Jack Fischer of NASA installed new electronics gear in a science rack to speed up the communications rate at which data is uploaded and downloaded from the research facility. Station veteran Peggy Whitson swapped out samples exposed to high temperatures inside a specialized furnace. She later installed a pair of NanoRacks research platforms in the Kibo laboratory module. The commercial science devices will support upcoming experiments being delivered on the next SpaceX Dragon mission.


Get weekly video highlights at: http://jscfeatures.jsc.nasa.gov/videoupdate/