A pair of Expedition 57 astronauts spent the day exploring how humans think and work while living long-term in space. A cosmonaut also tested a pair of tiny, free-floating satellites operating inside the International Space Station.
NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor is helping doctors on the ground understand if an astronaut’s brain structure and mental abilities change in space. She took part in a behavioral assessment test today that involves the mental imaging of rotating objects, target accuracy during motion or stillness and concentrating on two tasks at the same time. The NeuroMapping experiment, which has been ongoing since 2014, is exploring an astronaut’s neuro-cognitive abilities before, during and after a spaceflight.
Scientists are also learning how an astronaut’s nervous system may be impacted by different gravitational environments such as the moon, asteroids or planets. The GRIP study from ESA (European Space Agency) is exploring how space residents interact with objects by monitoring their grip and load forces.
Commander Alexander Gerst from Germany strapped himself into a specialized seat in the Columbus lab module for the GRIP study today. He performed several motions in the seat while gripping a device collecting data measuring cognition, grip force and movement kinematics.
Cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev set up the bowling ball-sized SPHERES satellites for a test run inside Japan’s Kibo lab module. The SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) are used for a variety of experiments including autonomous formation-flying, shipping liquids such as fuels and introducing students to spacecraft navigation techniques.
Three Expedition 54 crew members continued preparing for their return to Earth next week. A pair of astronauts also opened up BEAM today to stow a robotic hand and to check for contaminants.
Commander Alexander Misurkin joined his Soyuz MS-06 crewmates Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei and reviewed their procedures for next week’s descent into Earth’s atmosphere. The trio also familiarized themselves with the sensations they will experience flying through the atmosphere and feeling gravity for the first time after 168 days in space.
Misurkin will hand over command of the International Space Station to cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov on Monday at 2:40 p.m. EST. Misurkin, Vande Hei and Acaba will then close the hatch to their Soyuz spacecraft Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. and undock from the Poisk module 6:08 p.m. The trio will then parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan at 9:32 p.m. NASA TV will cover all the landing activities live.
Flight Engineers Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai will stay behind on the station with Shkaplerov as commander officially becoming the Expedition 55 crew when their crew mates undock next week. They will be joined March 23 by new Expedition 55-56 crew members Oleg Artemyev, Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel. The trio will launch March 21 and were in Red Square in Moscow today for traditional ceremonial activities.
Today, Tingle and Kanai opened up the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) and stowed a degraded robotic hand, or Latching End Effector (LEE), that was attached to the Canadarm2. The LEE was returned inside the station after last week’s robotics maintenance spacewalk. The duo also sampled BEAM’s air and surfaces for microbes.
NASA and SpaceX are now targeting no earlier than 10:35 a.m. EST Friday, Dec. 15th, for the company’s 13th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. SpaceX is taking additional time for the team to conduct full inspections and cleanings due to detection of particles in 2nd stage fuel system. Next launch opportunity would be no earlier than late December.
A Dragon spacecraft will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Dragon is now scheduled to arrive at the space station on Sunday, Dec. 17th.
On Sunday, Scott Tingle of NASA, Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are also scheduled to launch at 2:21 a.m. (1:21 p.m. Baikonur time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station.
NASA Television coverage for launch and arrival activities are as follows:
Friday, Dec. 15
10 a.m. – Launch commentary coverage begins
12 p.m. – Post-launch news conference with representatives from NASA’s International Space Station Program and SpaceX
Sunday, Dec. 17
1:15 a.m. – Soyuz MS-07 launch coverage begins
4:30 a.m. – Dragon rendezvous at the space station and capture coverage begins
SpaceX has delayed the launch of its next Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station to no earlier than Dec. 12. Back on orbit, the Cygnus cargo craft is getting ready to leave the orbital lab and an experimental module has its stay in space extended for at least another three years.
NASA and our commercial cargo provider SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Dec. 12 at 11:46 a.m. EST for their 13th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. This new launch date takes into account pad readiness, requirements for science payloads, space station crew availability, and orbital mechanics. Carrying about 4,800 pounds of cargo including critical science and research, the Dragon spacecraft will spend a month attached to the space station.
Ground controllers uninstalled Cygnus from the Unity module Tuesday morning with the Canadarm2 and are conducting a series of communications tests to assist NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Next, Vande Hei and Acaba will command the Canadarm2 to release Cygnus back into Earth orbit tomorrow at 8:10 a.m. EST where it will stay until Dec. 18.
BEAM, formally known as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, is staying attached to the station for another three years with a potential to stay an extra year after that. While BEAM transitions to its new role as a cargo hold, engineers will continue studying its ability to resist radiation, space debris and microbes. Bigelow Aerospace and NASA signed the contract extension in November to continue demonstrating the reliability of expandable habitat technologies in space.
More CubeSats were ejected from the International Space Station today to demonstrate and validate new technologies. Back inside the orbital lab, the Expedition 53 crew continued outfitting an experimental module and studying life science.
Two more tiny satellites were deployed from the Kibo laboratory module into Earth orbit today to research a variety of new technologies and space weather. One of the nanosatellites, known as TechEdSat, seeks to develop and demonstrate spacecraft and payload deorbit techniques. The OSIRIS-3U CubeSat will measure the Earth’s ionosphere in coordination with the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
Eye exams are on the schedule this week as two cosmonauts and two astronauts took turns playing eye doctor and patient today. Alex Misurkin and Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos started first with the optical coherence tomography hardware using a laptop computer. Next, Nespoli and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei took their turn to help doctors on the ground understand the vision changes that take place in space.
An experimental module attached to the International Space Station is being prepared for upcoming cargo operations. Tiny research satellites were also ejected from the orbital lab while a pair of Expedition 53 crew members scanned their leg muscles today.
BEAM, officially called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, is being outfitted this week for future stowage operations. Excess gear, including inflation tanks and dynamic sensors, used during its initial expansion back in May of 2016 is being removed to make room for new cargo. BEAM’s old gear and trash will now be stowed in the Cygnus resupply craft for disposal early next month.
Flight Engineers Paolo Nespoli and Sergey Ryazanskiy spent Monday exploring how the lack of gravity affects leg muscles. Nespoli strapped himself into a specialized exercise chair and attached electrodes to his leg with assistance from Ryazanskiy. The Sarcolab-3 experiment uses measurements from an ultrasound device and magnetic resonance imaging to observe impacts to the muscles and tendons of a crew member.
The Expedition 52 crew is loading the SpaceX Dragon with cargo for return back to Earth in less than two weeks. BEAM, the experimental habitat, also received a new radiation shield today that was 3D printed aboard the International Space Station.
Dragon is due to leave the International Space Station July 2 after cargo transfers with the resupply ship are complete. The crew offloaded new science experiments, spacewalking gear and station hardware shortly after it arrived on June 5. Dragon will now be packed with used station gear and research samples for analysis by NASA engineers and scientists after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.
Flight Engineer Jack Fischer opened up BEAM today and entered the expandable activity module for a regular checkup. He replaced an older radiation shield with a thicker shield that covers a radiation sensor inside BEAM. Fischer also sampled BEAM’s air and surfaces for microbes.
Veteran astronaut Peggy Whitson of NASA spent Tuesday sampling the air and surfaces for microbes in the station’s U.S. segment. Whitson also spent some time stowing synthetic DNA samples exposed to radiation in a science freezer and began readying rodent research gear for return next month aboard Dragon.
The astronauts took a break from spacewalk preparations today and checked out an expandable module and worked on science freezers. The crew also continued its human research program exploring space nutrition and the effects of microgravity on metabolism and the immune system.
Thomas Pesquet opened the hatches to the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) today for a status check. The European Space Agency astronaut sampled BEAM’s air and surfaces for microbes and installed impact sensors. He also used a digital camera with a fish-eye lens to capture 360-degree imagery of the inside of BEAM.
Veteran NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson serviced three science freezers ensuring biological samples can be preserved for return on an upcoming SpaceX Dragon mission. She also brushed up on robotics skills necessary for Friday’s spacewalk.
Cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy logged his meals again today before collecting saliva samples for an immunity study. Flight Engineer Andrey Borisenko researched how living in space long term affects metabolism and a crew member’s psychophysiological state.
BEAM was opened for a short time Thursday so the crew could install sensors inside the expandable module. The Expedition 50 space residents also explored how the body changes shape and how to prevent back pain during long-term missions.
BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, had its hatches opened temporarily so astronaut Peggy Whitson could install temporary sensors and perform a modal test, which has the astronaut use their fist to impart loads on the module. The sensors are measuring the resulting vibrations and how the module holds up to impacts. BEAM is an expandable habitat technology demonstration, which is a lower-mass and lower-volume system than metal habitats and can increase the efficiency of cargo shipments, possibly reducing the number of launches needed and overall mission costs.
Whitson also joined Commander Shane Kimbrough for body measurements to help NASA understand how living in space changes an astronaut’s physical characteristics. The duo collected video and imagery and measured chest, waist, hip arms and legs to help researchers learn how physical changes impact suit sizing.
An experimental suit called the SkinSuit is being studied for its ability to offset the effects of microgravity and prevent lower back pain and the stretching of the spine. Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet wore the SkinSuit today and documented his comfort, range of motion and other aspects of the suit.
September was a busy month on the International Space Station filled with a wide variety of space research, a spacewalk, a crew departure and a test of the new BEAM module. One science highlight this month includes a new experiment that may improve how medicine works.
A new fuel burning study is about to start soon after Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi completes the installation of the Group Combustion experiment. Results from the fire research could help engineers design advanced rocket engines and industrial furnaces. Onishi is also documenting his meals over the next few days for the ENERGY study. Onishi’s meal data in conjunction with his water and breath samples will help scientists understand the nutritional requirements necessary for long-term space missions.
Cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, who took command of Expedition 49 on Sept. 6, has been working on the continuous upkeep of the Russian segment of the space station. The veteran cosmonaut has been preparing a Progress resupply ship for its Oct. 14 undocking. Some of the numerous Russian science experiments Ivanishin has been conducting have been observing the condition of the Earth and exploring human research.