Europe Nears 10 Years at Station; Crew Studies Mice and Plants

NASA astronaut Rex Walheim works outside Europe’s new Columbus lab module shortly after it was installed in February of 2008.

The International Space Station program is getting ready to recognize the 10th year in space of its Columbus lab module from the European Space Agency (ESA). The Expedition 54 crew members, meanwhile, spent the day helping scientists on the ground understand the impacts of living in space.

ESA is getting ready to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the launch of Columbus. The European lab module blasted off inside space shuttle Atlantis on Feb. 7, 2008, for a two-day ride to the station. Canadarm2, the station’s robotic arm, removed Columbus from Atlantis’s cargo bay two days after its arrival and attached it the starboard side of the Harmony module.

A month after the installation of Columbus, ESA launched its first resupply ship to the station. The “Jules Verne” Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-1) lifted off March 9, 2008, atop an Ariane-5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. The ATV-1 then took a month-long ride for a series navigation tests before to automatically docking to the station.

Astronauts Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai continued studying mice on the space station for a drug study to potentially improve muscle health in microgravity and despite a lack of exercise. The rodents are housed in a special microgravity habitat for up to two months with results of the study helping scientists design therapies for humans with muscle-related ailments.

Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei set up botany gear in the Columbus lab module for the Veggie-3 experiment. The long-running plant study is exploring the feasibility of harvesting edible plants such as cabbage, lettuce and mizuna for consumption during spaceflight. Samples are returned to Earth for analysis.

ATV-5 Descends into Atmosphere; Progress Rolls out to Launch Pad

ISS Progress 58 Rolls Out
Russia’s ISS Progress 58 resupply ship rolls out to the launch pad in preparation for its Tuesday launch to the International Space Station. Credit: Courtesy Roscosmos

Marking an end to the 7-year era of European space freighter supply to the International Space Station, ESA’s (European Space Agency) “Georges Lemaitre” cargo vehicle entered the Earth’s atmosphere and burned up over the Pacific Ocean around 12:12 p.m. Central time Sunday following a pair of engine firings that first lowered the ATV-5’s orbit, then enabled it to drop out of orbit for its fiery entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. The end to the ATV came one day after it undocked from the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module. After losing telemetry from the vehicle, ATV flight controllers at the ATV Control Center in Toulouse, France offered their thanks to the Flight Directors at Mission Control, Houston and the Russian Mission Control Center in Korolev, Russia for the years of support during the ATV program, and offered best wishes for the future years of ISS operations.

Although the entry smoke trail could not been seen on ISS external cameras, Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore of NASA radioed down that he could see the plasma trail as ATV descended into the atmosphere and documented its demise with still and video cameras.

Meanwhile, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Russian ISS Progress 58 cargo craft rolled to its launch pad in frozen fog and temperatures hovering around 18 degrees for its launch Tuesday morning to the station to deliver more than three tons of food, fuel and supplies. Launch is scheduled at 5 a.m. Central time, with docking to the aft port of Zvezda planned at 10:58 a.m. Central time.

Europe’s ATV-5 Leaves Station

The International Space Station
The International Space Station configuration as of Feb. 14, 2015 when Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-5 undocked. Credit: NASA TV

ESA’s (European Space Agency) fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) undocked from the International Space Station’s aft port of the Zvezda service module at 8:42 a.m. EST.

ATV-5 will move to a safe distance from the space station for its deorbit and destructive entry in the Earth’s atmosphere Sunday.

This is the last in a series of European resupply spacecraft that began servicing the space station in the spring of 2008. In all, the ATVs delivered approximately 34 tons of supplies to the complex while docked to the station of 776 days. ESA is applying its technology and knowledge from the cargo ship to develop the service module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft.

Busy Traffic Period at Station As Crew Works Research

Astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts
Astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts work on U.S. spacesuits and tools. Credit: NASA TV

As the second resupply ship this week prepares to leave the International Space Station another spacecraft is being readied for its launch. Meanwhile, the six-member Expedition 42 crew was working a variety of maintenance and science tasks Thursday.

› Read more about spacecraft departure and arrival activities

Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-5 (ATV-5) is being packed with its final load of trash and discarded gear. The ATV-5 will undock from the Zvezda service module’s aft-end port Saturday at 8:40 a.m. EST. It will descend into the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean for a fiery demise Sunday afternoon.

A new resupply ship, the ISS Progress 58, is being loaded with final gear to be delivered Feb. 17 to Expedition 42 when it launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Roscosmos space freighter will orbit the Earth just four times, or about six hours, after launch before docking to the port vacated by ATV-5.

The station crew also focused on spacewalk preparations and microgravity science, the primary mission of the orbital laboratory, to benefit life on Earth as well as future space crews. Ground doctors assisted Commander Barry Wilmore and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti during eye exams. Cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova studied bioelectric cardiac activity as well as methods to locate punctures caused by micro-meteoroids on the station’s surface.

Samantha Cristoforetti
Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti talks to fellow Italians about listening to music in space and science onbaord the space station. Credit: NASA TV

Crew Back to Work on Science; Europe Preps Cargo Craft for Departure

SpaceX Dragon Recovered
SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted this image of the Dragon space freighter being recovered Tuesday about 259 miles southwest of Long Beach, California. Credit: Elon Musk
› View tweet

The Expedition 42 crew worked on numerous science investigations Wednesday after releasing the SpaceX Dragon for its splashdown Tuesday. The six orbital lab assistants studied such things as exercise loads in space, plant growth and changes to vision during long duration space missions.

The Force Shoes study will help researchers design better training programs and exercise devices for astronauts to improve their musculoskeletal health. The Plant Rotation experiment observes the direction of plant growth in microgravity in anticipation of future crews growing their own food. The Ocular Health experiment is looking at the changes to crew member’s visual, vascular and central nervous system and how long before they return to normal after returning to Earth

› Read more about the Force Shoes study
› Read more about the Plant Rotation experiment
› Read more about the Ocular Health experiment

Meanwhile, another spacecraft is preparing to end its stay at the International Space Station. Europe’s fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle-5 is being prepared for its undocking from the Zvezda service module Saturday morning. It will reenter Earth’s atmosphere on Sunday afternoon and burn up over the Pacific Ocean.

Crew Prepares for Dragon Release After Hatches Closed

SpaceX Dragon
Expedition 42 Commander and NASA Astronaut Barry Wilmore and European Space Agency Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti used the Canadarm2 robotic arm to grapple the SpaceX Dragon (CRS-5) ship on Jan. 12 2015. Photo Credit: NASA

The Expedition 42 crew closed the hatches to the Dragon commercial cargo craft today after loading it with critical gear and research. Dragon will be unberthed from the Harmony module then released from the grips of the Canadarm2 Tuesday afternoon. It will splashdown off the Pacific coast of Baja California for recovery by SpaceX engineers a couple of hours before sunset.

› Read more about NASA TV coverage of the release of SpaceX Dragon

Meanwhile, a trio of cosmonauts worked in the Russian segment of the International Space Station on their set of science investigations. They studied ways to locate punctures caused my micro-meteoroids on the Russian side of the station; they looked at the behavior of charged macroparticles inside a magnetic trap; they also explored crew training methods using interactive 3D manuals, or virtual manuals.

Another resupply spacecraft is counting down to its undocking from the space station this weekend. Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-5 (ATV-5) is set to undock from the Zvezda service module Saturday for a fiery deorbit over the Pacific about two weeks later. Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti installed internal cameras inside the ATV-5 that will record its breakup during the reentry. Engineers will use this data to understand the mechanics of a deorbiting spacecraft.

Space Freighters Prepped for Departure During Troubleshooting Activities

Astronaut Terry Virts
NASA Astronaut Terry Virts works on a pair of spacesuits in the U.S. Quest airlock. He and Commander Barry Wilmore are due to begin a trio of spacewalks Feb. 20. Credit: NASA TV

Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-5 (ATV-5) is operating with one less electronics chain that provides power to its batteries after it failed Wednesday. The other three electronics chains are operating normally as flight controllers and the station crew prepare the ATV-5 for its departure Feb. 14.

Cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Anton Shkaplerov set up gear in the Zvezda Service Module that will monitor the departure of the ATV-5. The European supply ship will fly about 4,000 miles away from the International Space Station before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean Feb. 27.

› Read more about the ATV-5 mission

NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts checked a U.S. spacesuit Thursday and attempted to restart its fan motor after it failed. Another spacesuit with a similar issue was packed inside the SpaceX Dragon space freighter, including other gear, hardware and science research, waiting for its return to Earth Feb. 10 where it will analyzed by engineers.

› Read more about the SpaceX CRS-5 mission

Crew Reviews Spacewalk Procedures

Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti
Astronauts Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti share fresh fruit floating inside the International Space Station.

Commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts reviewed spacewalk procedures Wednesday. They are scheduled to start the first of three spacewalks Feb. 20. The duo will set up cables and communication equipment allowing the future installation of International Docking Adapters accommodating commercial crew vehicles.

A CubeSat delivered to the International Space Station in January aboard the SpaceX Dragon supply ship will be deployed outside the Kibo lab module Thursday morning. It is testing various subsystems in space and also includes an amateur radio experiment.

› Read more about the SpaceX CRS-5 mission

European flight controllers are investigating a signal indicative of a failure in a power chain that provides battery power to the Automated Transfer Vehicle-5 (ATV-5). Three other power chains are operating normally inside the ATV-5 and the six-member Expedition 42 crew is continuing its normal activities.

Canadarm2 Prepares to Grab Dragon; Life Science for Crew

Flight Engineer Terry Virts
ISS042E119876 (01/10/2015) — US Astronaut and Flight Engineer Terry Virts a member of Expedition 42 on the International Space Station prepares to take scientific photographs on Jan. 10, 2015.

Mission Controllers in Houston will send commands to the 57.7 foot long Canadarm2 to grapple the SpaceX Dragon space freighter Tuesday. The robotic arm will latch on to a grapple fixture ahead of next week’s release of Dragon from the Harmony module. It will splash down off the Pacific coast of Baja California loaded with research and gear for analysis on Earth.

› Read more about the SpaceX CRS-5 mission

Back inside the International Space Station, the crew is working on more visiting vehicle activities, spacewalk preparations as well as ongoing microgravity science.

Commander Barry Wilmore is loading Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-5 (ATV-5) with trash readying the vehicle for its departure Feb. 14. Cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Anton Shkaplerov practiced using the telerobotically operated rendezvous system, or TORU, ahead of the Feb. 17 arrival of the ISS Progress 58 resupply ship. The TORU would be used in the unlikely event the Kurs automated rendezvous system failed during the Progress’ approach.

Wilmore also harvested plants for the APEX-03 botany experiment. That study observes the effects of microgravity on the development of roots and cells on plant seedlings. Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti looked at roundworms for the Epigenetics study that researches if new cell generations adapt to microgravity.

› Read more about the APEX-03 botany experiment
› Read about the Epigenetics study

Pair of Cargo Ships Prepped for Departure

Expedition 42 Crew Members
(From left) Expedition 42 crew members Commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineers Samantha Cristoforetti and Terry Virts talk to journalists from CNN Español and KUSA-TV in Denver, Colo.

There are three docked space freighters at the International Space Station and two are scheduled to depart this month. The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is being loaded with research and gear for return and analysis back on Earth. The Canadarm2 will detach Dragon from the Harmony module then release it for a splashdown Feb. 10 off the Pacific Coast of Baja California.

Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-5 (ATV-5) is being packed with trash and discarded gear and being readied for its departure Feb. 14. It will deorbit over the Pacific Ocean for a fiery destruction. This is Europe’s last ATV resupply mission to the space station.

A new ISS Progress 58 space freighter is scheduled for a six-hour flight to the station when it launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Feb. 17. It will occupy the same Zvezda docking port where the ATV-5 is located now.

Meanwhile, Commander Barry Wilmore and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti worked high-flying plumbing and maintenance on the International Space Station. Wilmore also prepared heater cables that will be installed on an upcoming spacewalk. Flight Engineer Terry Virts processed samples for a materials science experiment and removed hardware from the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus which is used to study cells, microbes and plants.

› Read more about the Coarsening in Solid Liquid Mixtures-2)
› Read more about the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus