Three Expedition 43 crew members are busy preparing for their homecoming during their last full day in space. Commander Terry Virts ceremoniously handed over control of the International Space Station this morning to veteran cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.
Virts and Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti will end their stay tomorrow at 6:20 a.m. EDT when they undock from the Rassvet module. The trio in their Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft will parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan at 9:43 a.m. after 199 days in space. NASA TV will cover the undocking and landing activities live.
Science, the main purpose of the space station, is still ongoing today as One-Year crew member Scott Kelly collected his urine and saliva samples for the Twins study. Scientists are comparing his body in weightlessness with his Earth-bound identical twin brother and ex-astronaut Mark Kelly.
Thrusters on a Soyuz spacecraft inadvertently fired Tuesday morning momentarily changing the station’s orientation. Russian flight controllers quickly corrected the situation and the crew was never in any danger nor is there any impact on the Expedition 43 undocking Thursday morning.
Today at 10:27 a.m. Central time during the routine testing of communications systems between the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft and the International Space Station (ISS), Soyuz thrusters activated inadvertently which led to a slight change in the orientation of the ISS. Actions were immediately taken to reorient the ISS. There was no threat to the crew or the station itself, and the issue will have no impact to a nominal return to Earth of the Soyuz TMA-15M on Thursday. Roscosmos specialists are determining the cause of the incident. Once more information is known, additional information will be provided.
Station managers from Roscosmos have announced new Soyuz and Progress spacecraft launch dates through the end of the year. Meanwhile, the six member Expedition 43 crew on orbit has a packed schedule of homecoming preparations, science and maintenance.
Three Soyuz crew missions to the International Space Station have been given new launch dates. The next Soyuz mission carrying three Expedition 44/45 crew members is scheduled sometime between July 23 and 25. A Soyuz taxi flight that will bring up Flight Engineer Sergey Volkov and return Commander Gennady Padalka is scheduled for launch Sept. 1. Volkov will be accompanied by European astronaut Andres Mogensen and a third crew member yet to be announced. The Expedition 46/47 trio will launch Dec. 15.
Three Progress cargo missions were also rescheduled. The first resupply mission is set for July 3 and the next two are planned for Sept. 21 and Nov. 21.
In space, Commander Terry Virts and Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti are packing their Soyuz TMA-15M and getting ready for Thursday’s undocking and landing. The homebound trio will undock at 6:20 a.m. EDT and land in Kazakhstan at 9:43 a.m.
A wide array of experiment work that observes how humans adapt to living in space took place Tuesday. One-Year crew member Scott Kelly collected his saliva and blood samples for the Twins study. Scientists are comparing his body in weightlessness with his Earth-bound identical twin brother and ex-astronaut Mark Kelly. The crew prepared for ultrasound scans so they could explore cardiovascular health before, during and after a space mission for the Cardio Ox study. The crew also studied how astronauts operate and repair interactive, touch-based and sensitive technologies in space for the Fine Motor Skills study.
Playing it conservatively, International Space Station flight controllers conducted a pre-determined avoidance maneuver (PDAM) today to steer the station well clear of a fragment of a spent Minotaur rocket body launched in 2013. Having tracked the object throughout the weekend and today, U.S. and Russian flight controllers executed a 5 minute, 22 second firing of the ISS Progress 58 thrusters at 2:58 p.m. CDT to slightly raise the station’s orbit and distance it from the fragment that was projected to pass within three statute miles of the complex later in the day.
The maneuver raised the station’s altitude by just 106 feet at apogee and 7/10 of a mile at perigee, resulting in an ISS orbit of 254 x 244.8 statute miles.
The crew was never in any danger and the maneuver will have no impact on the scheduled landing later this week of Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Soyuz commander Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency, who are completing preparations for their return to Earth and a parachute-assisted landing in Kazakhstan in their Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft at 9:43 a.m. EDT Thursday.
A fragment from a spent Minotaur rocket body is being monitored today as flight controllers decide whether or not there will be a conjunction with the International Space Station. A docked ISS Progress 58 cargo craft would fire its engines should the space station need to get out of the way of the space debris.
A trio of Expedition 43 crew members will still come home Thursday morning should an avoidance maneuver be necessary. Commander Terry Virts and Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti are moving right along with their departure preparations. They trained for their descent through the Earth’s atmosphere and tested the thrusters of their Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft.
The latest Expedition 43 trio including Flight Engineer Gennady Padalka and One-Year crew members Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko teamed up to review their roles and responsibilities in case of an emergency.
Expedition 43 crew members Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti will return to Earth June 11 at 9:43 a.m. EDT. The trio from the U.S., Russia and Italy will enter the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft, undock from the Rassvet module and land in Kazakhstan after 6-1/2 months in space.
The homebound crew is packing gear in their Soyuz vehicle and training to use the Lower Body Negative Pressure suit which gets their bodies ready for the return Earth’s gravity. In the midst of Soyuz departure preparations, the crew is also continuing the International Space Station’s mission of advanced microgravity science to benefit life on Earth and in space.
There was more Rodent Research work on Friday as scientists study mice to understand the effects of weightlessness on muscles and bones. The crew is also participating in the Fine Motor Skills experiment which looks at how astronauts interact with touch-based technologies and spacecraft instrumentation.
Spacesuit maintenance took up most of the day for a pair of astronauts. Crew members also explored the long-term effects of microgravity on the brain and vision.
Commander Terry Virts joined Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti in the Quest joint airlock to swap out a fan pump separator inside a U.S. spacesuit. The duo are checking the device after earlier maintenance work revealed it wasn’t functioning properly.
Before that work began, Cristoforetti relocated the Protein Crystallization Research Facility in Japan’s Kibo lab module. Virts wrapped up his workday with some maintenance in a science freezer ensuring it stays cold enough to store biological samples for later analysis.
One-Year crew members Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly joined fellow Soyuz crewmate Gennady Padalka for ongoing Fluid Shifts experiment work. The trio received assistance from ground operators as they collected vision data using a variety of medical tools. Watch an interview with Mike Stenger, one of the co-principal investigators of the Fluid Shifts experiment.
The six-member Expedition 43 crew conducted a variety of advanced microgravity science and performed spacesuit maintenance. U.S. astronauts Terry Virts and Scott Kelly also commemorated 50 years of operations in Houston’s Mission Control Center.
The orbital lab’s inhabitants explored a complex set of subjects in space including physics, biology and crew health. Flight Engineer Gennady Padalka studied plasma crystals which could benefit future spacecraft design. Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti continued her work with the Rodent Research experiment that could potentially lead to new drugs to treat diseases on Earth.
One-Year crew member Mikhail Kornienko was back at work on the Fluid Shifts study partnering with Kelly and Padalka. The trio took measurements as part of an investigation to better understand how microgravity impacts fluid pressure in the head, changes in vision and eye structures.
On June 3, 1965, Mission Control Center in Houston began operations when Gemini IV lifted off for a four-day mission with astronauts James McDivitt and Ed White. America’s first spacewalk also took place during that mission when White floated out of the spacecraft attached to a 25-foot umbilical line and tether.
NASA astronaut and One-Year crew member Scott Kelly gathered hardware today for the start of the Fluid Shifts experiment. For the experiment on Tuesday, both Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will don the Russian Lower Body Negative Pressure (Chibis) suit and undergo ultrasound measurements. Fluid Shifts is a joint NASA-Russian experiment that investigates the causes for physical changes to astronaut’s eyes. Results from this study may help to develop preventative measures against lasting changes in vision and eye damage.
Meanwhile, NASA astronaut Terry Virts worked today to prepare the Multi-Purpose Small Payload Rack (MSPR) and Thermal Container to enable the ground to perform additional data collection in advance of the Cell Mechanosensing-3 experiment, launching on SpaceX-7. ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti took samples for the Microbiome experiment which investigates the impact of space travel on both the human immune system and an individual’s microbiome, the collection of microbes that live in and on the human body at any given time.
Virts and Cristoforetti also gathered tools inside the station’s Quest airlock for upcoming work on one of the U.S. segment’s spacesuits.
Today, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) announced they will provide an updated vehicle launch and landing schedule by June 9.
The Expedition 43 crew is wrapping up the remodeling of the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) at its new location on the forward port of the Tranquility module. The station residents also participated in maintenance and experiments exploring the long-term effects of living in space on the human body.
Commander Terry Virts and One-Year crew member Scott Kelly are finalizing configuration tasks in the PMM after Wednesday’s relocation from the Harmony module. Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti was working in Europe’s Columbus lab module on advanced microgravity plumbing tasks.
One-Year crew member Mikhail Kornienko teamed up with Flight Engineer Gennady Padalka for the Fluid Shifts experiment studying how upper and lower body fluid shifts affect a crew member’s brain pressure and vision. Flight Engineer Anton Shkaplerov worked throughout the station’s Russian segment on orbital maintenance.
Over the weekend the crew the six-member international crew will have time to relax, exercise and talk to family members.