Crew Studies Health Impacts of Space Radiation and Station Atmosphere

Astronaut Joe Acaba
Astronaut Joe Acaba works on U.S. spacesuit gear inside the Quest airlock.

The Expedition 53 crew explored ways to protect astronauts from space radiation as well as dust particles floating inside a spacecraft. The residents of the International Space Station also worked on cosmic ray gear, a U.S. spacesuit and audio equipment.

European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli tested a personal radiation shielding garment today. Water, used for its shielding properties, is placed in garment containers that cover organs that are especially sensitive to cosmic radiation.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei studied how gases and dust in the station’s atmosphere impact breathing aboard a spacecraft. He set up ultra-sensitive monitors that analyze exhaled air to detect crew health impacts. Results will help doctors and engineers improve conditions for future astronauts traveling longer and farther into space.

NASA astronaut Joe Acaba worked on a U.S. spacesuit’s water system before changing out a hard drive and installing new software on a support laptop for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer cosmic ray detector. Commander Randy Bresnik replaced faulty electronics gear inside the Harmony module restoring power to an internal audio speaker unit.

Cygnus Cargo Mission Due for Launch on Veteran’s Day

 

Orbital ATK Cygnus
The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo craft is seen just before being released from the grip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm on February 19, 2016.

Orbital ATK’s eighth commercial cargo mission is set to launch to the International Space Station at 7:37 a.m. EST Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11. The Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus cargo craft will blast off from Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia, with over 7,000 pounds of food, supplies and research gear.

Two astronauts will be inside the cupola commanding the Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture Cygnus when it arrives Monday at 5:40 a.m. Flight Engineer Paolo Nespoli will capture Cygnus, dubbed the “SS Gene Cernan”, assisted by Commander Randy Bresnik. Cygnus will deliver numerous advanced science experiments exploring a wide variety of subjects including communication and navigation, microbiology, animal biology and plant biology.

Meanwhile, the orbiting Expedition 53 crew members continued investigating biology and robotics in microgravity.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei collected and stowed saliva samples today that will be analyzed later for a study on the human immune system and metabolism. Bresnik took panoramic photographs inside the Kibo laboratory module to prepare for the upcoming Astrobee experiment. Astrobee consists of three free-flying, cube-shaped robots that will be tested for their ability to assist astronauts and ground controllers.

On top of the world

Mark Vande Hei exercises
View of Mark Vande Hei, Expedition 53 flight engineer, exercising on the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT) T2 aboard the space station. Image Credit: NASA

When you’re on top of the world—or orbiting it—there’s no better place to be. NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) had a late night yesterday, staying up to watch a special uplink from Mission Control: Game 7 of the World Series. The winning outcome was cause for celebration, as the Astros have many fans at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, which is home base for the astronauts.

Today, the crew worked to size up the exercise equipment they rely on to sustain muscle mass and prevent bone loss while living and working in space. They set up cameras in Node 3 to capture video from multiple angles of the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) and Miniature Exercise Device (MED-2) hardware, applied body markers, performed exercises and transferred the video for delivery to Mission Control. Aboard ISS, the exercise equipment is large and bulky, which is OK because the orbiting laboratory is about the size of a three-bedroom house. But, for Mars or other destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, available space will be difficult to come by. MED-2 aims to demonstrate that small robotic actuators can provide the same quality motion and resistance for crew workout sessions, thus reducing the size and weight of exercise devices for space missions farther out and lengthier in duration. Evaluating MED-2’s game-changing technology is crucial to the design and development of second- and third-generation hardware that is much lighter, smaller and more reliable than what is used now.

An Expedition 53 crew member read “Notable Notebooks Scientists and Their Writings Read” on camera for Story Time from Space. These recordings are downlinked and then used in schools, combining science literacy with simple concept experiments that children can follow along with on the ground. The videos are posted in a library with accompanying educational materials, further promoting science, technology, engineering and math to budding scientists, engineers and explorers.

The station’s altitude was raised last night during a three minute, 26-second firing of the ISS Progress 67 thrusters. The reboost of the complex was the first of two such maneuvers this month to set up the correct trajectory for the landing of the Expedition 53 crew on Dec. 14 in south central Kazakhstan and the launch, three days later, of the Expedition 54-55 crew from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Station Crew Continues Prep for Eighth Orbital ATK Launch

Cygnus
Cygnus is an autonomous cargo vehicle that provides commercial cargo resupply services to the International Space Station. Its next launch is targeted for Nov. 11. Image Credit: NASA

Routine—and not-so-routine—housekeeping duties continue for Expedition 53 aboard the International Space Station in preparation for an upcoming Orbital ATK 8 (OA-8) commercial launch targeted for Nov. 11.

The crewmates prepared the Permanent Multipurpose Module rack fronts to accept cargo by moving smaller items off and staging them for disposal. During OA-8 cargo operations, the items marked for disposal will be swapped with new cargo arriving aboard OA-8.

During Orbital ATK’s eighth Cygnus resupply mission, the cargo craft will make a nine-minute ascent to space and then begin a two-day trek to the space station. Upon arrival, it will captured by Canadarm2 and installed for a month-long stay. Tonight, ground teams will reboost the station using the thrusters on Progress 67, which will put it at the proper altitude to meet up with Cygnus.

The crew also spent part of the workday photo documenting their uncommon “home life” aboard the orbiting laboratory for the Canadian Space Agency study called At Home in Space. This investigation assesses the culture, values and psychosocial adaptation of astronauts to a space environment shared by multinational crews during long mission timeframes. Questionnaires answered by the crew will help answer if astronauts develop a unique, shared space culture as an adaptive strategy for handling the cultural differences they encounter in their isolated and confined environment by creating a home in space.

For Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA, their day was punctuated by an educational downlink with students from Shaker Heights High School in Cleveland, Ohio. The students were immersed in the science and technology studies being executed daily approximately 240 miles above Earth.

Station Crew Remains Rooted in Science as the Week Kicks Off

Veggie Harvest
Charles Spern, project manager on the Engineering Services Contract, communicates instructions for the Veggie system to astronaut Joe Acaba aboard the space station. Image Credit: NASA/Amanda Griffin

The Expedition 53 crew capped off last week’s investigations with fresh pickings of lettuce, cabbage and mizuna harvested from the Veg-03 investigation. There’s still some left, though, for the remainder of the vegetation will be allowed to grow and sprout new leaves. Since future long-duration explorers will expected to grow their own food to survive the harsh environment of space and Mars, understanding how plants respond to microgravity is an important component to a robust astronaut food system.

Plants are still on the table for the crew, so to speak, as the week kicks off. Following last week’s successful assembly and installation of the Advanced Plant Plant Habitat facility into the EXpedite the PRocessing of Experiments to Space Station (EXPRESS) Rack 5 (ER5), today the crew moved the Space Acceleration Measurement System (SAMS) Sensor Enclosure to ER5. The automated plant habitat facility will be used to conduct plant bioscience research aboard the International Space Station by providing a large, enclosed, environmentally controlled chamber.

The crewmates also set up the payload components for EarthKAM in Node 2 for a weeklong imaging session. Sally Ride EarthKAM allows thousands of students worldwide to photograph and examine Earth from a space crew’s perspective. Using the Internet, the students control a special digital camera mounted on the space station to photograph coastlines, mountain ranges and other geographic items of interest from the incomparable viewpoint of space. Later, the varied topographies are shared online for the public and participating classrooms to observe.

Around noon EDT, Station Commander Randy Bresnik and Flight Engineer Joe Acaba of NASA shared insights about living and working aboard the nation’s most unique U.S. National Laboratory with students from Santa Monica High School in Santa Monica, California.

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.

Expedition 53 Spacewalk Successfully Comes to an End

Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik and Flight Engineer Joe Acaba of NASA completed a 6 hour, 49 minute spacewalk at 2:36 p.m. EDT. The two astronauts installed a new camera system on the Canadarm2 robotic arm’s latching end effector, an HD camera on the starboard truss of the station and replaced a fuse on the Dextre robotic arm extension.
 
The duo worked quickly and were able to complete several “get ahead” tasks. Acaba greased the new end effector on the robotic arm. Bresnik installed a new radiator grapple bar. Bresnik completed prep work for one of two spare pump modules on separate stowage platforms to enable easier access for potential robotic replacement tasks in the future. He nearly finished prep work on the second, but that work will be completed by future spacewalkers.
 
This was the fifth spacewalk of Bresnik’s career (32 hours total spacewalking) and the third for Acaba (19 hours and 46 minutes total spacewalking). Space station crew members have conducted 205 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory. Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 53 days, 6 hours and 25 minutes working outside the station.
 

For more information about the International Space Station, visit www.nasa.gov/station.

Expedition 53 Embarks upon Third and Final Spacewalk in October Series

Two NASA astronauts switched their spacesuits to battery power this morning at 7:47 a.m. EDT aboard the International Space Station to begin a spacewalk planned to last about 6.5 hours. Live coverage is available on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik and Flight Engineer Joe Acaba of NASA will replace a camera light assembly on the Canadarm2 latching end effectors (LEE) that spacewalkers installed on the Canadarm2 robotic Oct. 5. They will also install an HD camera outside the station among other tasks in the 205th spacewalk in support of assembly and maintenance in station history.

Bresnik is wearing the suit with red stripes, and helmet camera #18. Acaba is wearing the suit with no stripes, and helmet camera #17.

Follow @space_station on Twitter for updates on the station and crew activities. For more information about the International Space Station, visit www.nasa.gov/station.