Crew Packs Cargo Dragon With Science, Begins Spacewalk Preps

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins loads engineered heart tissue samples into a science freezer for preservation and later analysis.
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins loads engineered heart tissue samples into a science freezer for preservation and later analysis.

The Expedition 64 crew is going into the weekend packing the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship and readying it for a Monday morning undocking from the International Space Station. The orbital residents are also turning their attention to a pair of spacewalks taking place before the end of January.

A month after its arrival and delivery of a suite of vital space science investigations, the Dragon will return the research back to Earth for analysis on Monday. The astronauts will be loading gear and samples from those studies, as well as a variety of station hardware, into Dragon this weekend before closing its hatch a few hours before undocking.

The astronauts are transferring rodents inside specialized habitats into Dragon including an array of biological and microbial samples stowed in science freezers. Scientists on Earth will examine the mice for insights into advanced therapies to treat space-caused vision and bone conditions. Heart tissue samples and microbes will be also looked at, among other samples, to learn how to keep astronauts healthy and spacecraft clean and safe.

NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins will be monitoring Dragon when it undocks Monday at 9:25 a.m. EST. from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. The upgraded space freighter is planned to splash down several hours later in the Atlantic Ocean, a first for a commercial cargo spacecraft. NASA and SpaceX personnel will be on hand to retrieve the cargo craft. NASA TV will broadcast Dragon’s undocking and separation live on NASA TV beginning at 9 a.m.

Following a busy holiday season of space research, the crew now turns its attention to spacewalks planned for January 19 and 25. Veteran spacewalker Michael Hopkins will conduct both spacewalks with Flight Engineer Victor Glover. They will outfit science hardware on Europe’s Columbus laboratory module during the first spacewalk then upgrade high definition video and camera gear on the second.

The pair were joined today by Rubins and JAXA Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi for spacewalk procedure reviews and a conference with spacewalk specialists on the ground. Hopkins and Glover also began configuring and organizing their spacewalking tools. Rubins and Noguchi will assist the astronauts in and out of their spacesuits and the Quest airlock before and after both spacewalks.

Cygnus Departs Station After 93-Day Cargo Mission

The Cygnus space freighter is pictured in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm moments before its release completing a 93-day stay at the space station. Credit: NASA TV
The Cygnus space freighter is pictured in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm moments before its release completing a 93-day stay at the space station. Credit: NASA TV

At 10:10 a.m. EST, flight controllers on the ground sent commands to release the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft from the Canadarm2 robotic arm after earlier detaching Cygnus from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module.

The Cygnus spacecraft successfully departed the International Space Station three months after arriving at the space station to deliver about 8,000 pounds of scientific experiments and supplies to the orbiting laboratory.

Prior to departure, the crew packed Cygnus with the Saffire V investigation and the SharkSat hosted payload to be conducted during an extended mission in orbit. On Jan. 26, Northrop Grumman flight controllers in Dulles, Virginia, will initiate Cygnus’ deorbit to perform a safe re-entry, burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.

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Cygnus Departs Station Today Live on NASA TV

The Cygnus space freighter is pictured moments after being released from the Canadarm2 robotic arm on Jan. 31, 2020.
The Cygnus space freighter is pictured moments after being released from the Canadarm2 robotic arm on Jan. 31, 2020.

About three months after delivering several tons of scientific experiments and supplies to the International Space Station, Northrop Grumman’s uncrewed Cygnus cargo spacecraft is scheduled to depart the orbiting laboratory Wednesday, Jan. 6. This morning, flight controllers on the ground sent commands to use the Canadarm2 robotic arm to robotically detach Cygnus from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module and maneuver it into place.

Live coverage of the spacecraft’s release will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 9:45 a.m. EDT, with its release from the robotic arm scheduled for 10:10 a.m.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will monitor Cygnus’ systems upon its departure from the space station.

The Cygnus resupply spacecraft is named in memory of Kalpana Chawla, the first female astronaut of Indian descent. Chawla, who dedicated her life to understanding flight dynamics, died in the STS-107 space shuttle Columbia accident.

Cygnus arrived at the space station Oct. 5 with nearly 8,000 pounds of supplies, scientific investigations, commercial products, hardware, and other cargo following an Oct. 2 launch on Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.

For departure coverage and more information about the mission, visit: https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/. Get space station news, images and features via social media on Instagram at: @iss, ISS on Facebook, and on Twitter @Space_Station and @ISS_Research.

U.S. Cygnus Cargo Craft Ready for Wednesday Departure

The seven-member Expedition 64 crew gathers together for a New Year's Day portrait inside the International Space Station's "window to the world," the cupola.
The seven-member Expedition 64 crew gathers together for a New Year’s Day portrait inside the International Space Station’s “window to the world,” the cupola.

The U.S. Cygnus space freighter has been packed and is “go” for its departure from the International Space Station on Wednesday morning. The Expedition 64 crew is also wrapping up variety of science experiments and loading a second U.S. cargo craft for its return to Earth next week.

NASA Flight Engineer Victor Glover closed the hatch to Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus resupply ship attached to the Unity module on Tuesday afternoon. He will be on duty Wednesday morning monitoring Cygnus when mission controllers remotely command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release it into space at 10:10 a.m. EST. NASA TV begins its live coverage of Cygnus’ departure at 9:45 a.m.

Cygnus will orbit Earth on its own until Jan. 26 for a series of flight tests and automated science experiments before deorbiting above the Pacific Ocean for a fiery, but safe destruction. Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins of NASA readied one of those experiments today, the Saffire-V spacecraft fire study, just before hatch closure. That investigation will set a controlled fire inside Cygnus once it reaches a safe distance from the station to explore fire safety in confined spaces such as a spacecraft.

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon is next on the departure schedule with its undocking set for Jan. 11 at 9:25 a.m. The Cargo Dragon will parachute to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean just a few hours after its separation from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter.

NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins is winding down several studies and readying the results for return to Earth next week inside the upgraded U.S. resupply ship. Rubins worked on the Cardinal Heart investigation that observes engineered heart tissue samples to understand the aging and weakening of heart muscles that astronauts experience in space. Next, she inoculated cultures of microbes for a study exploring the microbial risk to a spacecraft’s environment.

Astronauts Shannon Walker of NASA and Soichi Noguchi of JAXA worked on cargo transfers inside the Cargo Dragon throughout Tuesday. Walker also tended to rodents that will be returned to Earth next week and analyzed to better understand space-caused bone conditions.

Commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos participated in a space exercise study before cleaning the ventilation system in the Zarya module. His fellow cosmonaut Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov participated in the same workout investigation then moved onto Russian communication and plumbing tasks.

New Year Brings Space Biology and U.S. Cargo Ship Departures

The Cygnus space freighter and SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship are being readied for departure on Jan. 6 and 11.

The seven-member Expedition 64 crew relaxed on New Year’s Day and went into the first weekend of 2021 researching space biology. The International Space Station residents are also packing a pair of U.S. resupply ships for departure this week and next.

Three astronauts spent Saturday and Sunday studying how microgravity affects vision and bone tissue in rodents. Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover of NASA spent the weekend observing several dozen mice to help scientists prevent vision and bone conditions that astronauts experience while living in space. JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi assisted the duo during the two life science experiments.

A different pair of biology studies is exploring how weightlessness impacts potential treatments for Earth and space-caused conditions. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins spent Sunday peering through a microscope at protein crystals which are much higher quality than those produced on Earth. Results from that experiment could inform ways to commercialize the development of cancer therapies in space. She also looked at engineered heart tissues to gain insights into aging and weakening heart muscles that humans experience on and off the Earth.

NASA astronaut Shannon Walker spent the weekend readying the Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter and the SpaceX Cargo Dragon for their upcoming departures. Cygnus will be completing a 93-day stay and the Cargo Dragon a 35-day stay at the orbiting lab.

Rubins will monitor Cygnus’ departure first on Jan. 6 after mission controllers on the ground command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to remove it from the Unity module then release it into Earth orbit. Cygnus will orbit Earth on its own until Jan. 26 for flight tests and remotely controlled science experiments.

The Cargo Dragon will be loaded with samples from this weekend’s experiments and more, including space station hardware, for return to Earth on Jan. 11. Glover will monitor the first undocking of the Cargo Dragon from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. This will also be Dragon’s first planned splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

U.S. Cargo Ships Depart In January; Crew Exploring Biology and Physics

Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins checks on young radish plants growing for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment that seeks to optimize plant growth in space.
Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins checks on young radish plants growing for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment that seeks to optimize plant growth in space.

Two U.S. resupply ships are being readied for their departure next month from the International Space Station. Meanwhile, the Expedition 64 crew continued its intense schedule of space research with cardiac studies and radish harvesting today.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter is due to be the first cargo craft to leave the station in 2021 on Jan. 6. Ground controllers will remotely command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release Cygnus into Earth orbit after 93 days attached to the Unity module. Cygnus will separate to a safe distance away from the station and continue orbiting Earth for an extended mission of flight tests and science experiments.

Less than a week later, the SpaceX Cargo Dragon will undock from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. The upgraded version of the returnable space freighter will splash down the same day in the Atlantic Ocean loaded with space station hardware and science investigations for analysis.

The station residents also focused Tuesday on a host of space studies exploring heart cells, semiconductors and botany. These studies and others being hosted on the station may benefit human health and improve products around the world and on future space missions.

Samples of engineered heart tissues were serviced aboard the orbiting lab today for the Cardinal Heart study that seeks to understand space-caused cell and tissue abnormalities. Hardware is being set up this week to learn more about the process of semiconductor crystal growth to benefit Earth and space industries. Finally, radish plants are being harvested on the station this week helping botanists learn to manage food production in space and evaluate nutrition and taste in microgravity.

New Science Airlock Expands Station’s Research Capacity

The new NanoRacks Bishop research airlock is installed on the port side of the Tranquility module and significantly expands the capacity for commercial space research on the outside of the orbiting lab.

Science operations continue to expand aboard the International Space Station with the installation of a new research airlock over the weekend. The seven-member Expedition 64 crew also stayed busy exploring a variety of space biology and physics phenomena.

Robotics controllers on Earth spent Saturday remotely commanding the Canadarm2 robotic arm to install the new NanoRacks Bishop science airlock delivered Dec. 7 aboard the SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship. During a series of hours-long maneuvers, Bishop was extracted from Dragon’s unpressurized trunk and installed on the port side of the Tranquility module adjacent to BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module.

Bishop significantly increases the capacity for public and private research on the outside of the orbiting lab. The new science airlock also enables the deployment of larger satellites and the transfer of spacewalking tools and hardware inside and outside the station.

Dragon also delivered over 2,000 pounds of new science investigations to the orbiting lab keeping the seven-member crew busy throughout December. Some of that research took place over the weekend with the astronauts studying planetary exploration technologies and potential treatments for heart conditions on and off the Earth.

The new BioAsteroid experiment is looking at microbes as a way to breakdown space rocks into fertile soils or extract valuable metals and minerals. The crew serviced samples inside the Kubik incubator on Sunday for the study seeking to enable biomining that may advance space exploration and settlement.

Flight Engineer Kate Rubins has been leading the Cardinal Heart study since activating the experiment shortly after its arrival aboard the Cargo Dragon. She serviced engineered heart tissues over the weekend to understand the cardiovascular response to microgravity. Results may give deeper insights into aging and weakening heart muscles that may lead to more effective therapies for humans living on and off the Earth.

Human Research, Technology Science as Spacesuit Work Wraps Up

Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Victor Glover works on U.S. spacesuits in the Quest airlock.

The Expedition 64 continued its human research studies today while also focusing on space manufacturing and technology investigations. Spacesuit maintenance has also wrapped up for the week aboard the International Space Station.

The lack of gravity in space is not the only factor affecting the human body. Solar radiation is also a concern as NASA plans crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. The station astronauts have been wearing the new AstroRad Vest this week testing for more than just radiation protection, but also comfort and fit. The vest design expands upon protective gear designed for emergency personnel responding to radiation exposure incidents on Earth.

Muscle measurements and ultrasound scans were back on the schedule today for the long-running Myotones experiments. Blood samples are also taken to help doctors understand and treat muscle atrophy that occurs during spaceflight. Daily exercise offsets this loss, but insights from the investigation may provide alternate therapies for space crews, as well as more Earthbound muscle conditions.

Microgravity provides an ideal environment for producing high quality optic fibers superior to those created on Earth. Samples of optic fibers produced in the station’s Microgravity Science Glovebox were swapped out today for the ongoing Fiber Optic Production manufacturing study that may help commercialize space exploration.

Another study looking at optical communications today is testing the high-speed, high-capacity downlink of data from the orbiting lab. A unique, tiny pointing mechanism was installed for operations from Japan’s Kibo laboratory module for the SOLISS technology demonstration. The experiment uses lasers and could advance space communications and the transmission of data to and from remote locations on Earth.

The crew cleaned up the U.S. Quest airlock today after a weeklong series of spacesuit maintenance tasks inside the spacewalk staging module. U.S. spacesuit components were upgraded, swapped and cleaned throughout the week as station managers begin planning spacewalks for 2021. Another spacesuit was packed inside the SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship for return to Earth in January.

The new NanoRacks Bishop airlock, delivered Dec. 7 in the SpaceX Cargo Dragon’s unpressurized trunk, will be installed to the Tranquility module this weekend using the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Bishop will increase the capacity for commercial research, enable the release of larger satellites, and expand equipment transfers in and out of the station.

Cancer, Heart Research Today Ahead of Science Airlock Installation

A U.S. Cygnus and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft are pictured docked to the station as it orbited above the Pacific Ocean.
A U.S. Cygnus and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft are pictured docked to the station as it orbited above the Pacific Ocean.

The Expedition 64 crew is busy this week with a full slate of life science to promote healthier humans on and off the Earth. Cancer and heart research took precedence today alongside muscle and rodent studies for unique therapeutic insights on the International Space Station.

The microgravity environment on the station enables the production of high-quality protein crystals that are imaged using a microscope for the purpose of improving drug development. The Monoclonal Antibodies study taking place today will use the observations to improve medical cancer treatments and the space manufacturing process.

Engineered heart tissue samples are being observed this week for the Cardinal Heart investigation. NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins is leading that experiment to understand why weightlessness seems to induce cell and tissue abnormalities similar to heart conditions on Earth. Results may help doctors understand and predict cardiovascular risks for Earthlings and astronauts.

More muscle work was on the research schedule today as the crew continued with measurements and ultrasound scans today. The Myotones investigation monitors how microgravity changes muscles and tendons in an astronaut’s body to provide countermeasures for crews in space and therapies for patients on Earth.

Rodents are also being studied this month for insights into tissue and bone loss as well as eye changes caused by living in space. One study will study explore how genetic modifications affect bone and tissue regeneration. The second will look at new treatments for space-caused and Earthbound eye problems.

Robotics controllers are preparing to remove a new science airlock delivered to the station last week inside the SpaceX Cargo Dragon’s unpressurized trunk. Using the Canadarm2 robotic arm, the NanoRacks Bishop airlock will be attached to the Tranquility module this weekend ramping up commercial research opportunities in space.

Crew Unpacks Dragon and Activates New Science

The upgraded SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle approaches the space station as both vehicles were orbiting above the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico.
The upgraded SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle approaches the space station as both vehicles were orbiting above the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico.

Six spaceships, three U.S. and three Russian, are parked at the International Space Station after Monday’s arrival of the upgraded SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle. The Expedition 64 crew will spend the rest of December focusing on science as 2021 shapes up to be a busy year on the orbital lab.

Two Dragon spaceships, one cargo craft and one crew ship, are docked to the station’s Harmony module for the first time ever. The Cargo Dragon docked Monday afternoon to Harmony’s space-facing port where it will stay for one month. The Crew Dragon has been docked to Harmony’s forward port since Nov. 16 and will return four astronauts back to Earth in the spring.

Cargo Dragon’s hatch was opened shortly after its automated docking and the crew soon began unpacking and activating the first of 2,100 pounds of new science investigations. The U.S. resupply ship’s main payload, the NanoRacks Bishop science airlock, will be installed with the Canadarm2 robotic arm to the Tranquility module later this month.

NASA Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Michael Hopkins began Tuesday offloading the Dragon-transported critical research samples and stowing them in science freezers to be examined later. Their crewmates Kate Rubins installed new science freezers in the station, while Victor Glover set up newly delivered habitats carrying rodents for analysis.

A new human stem cell experiment, Space Organogenesis, got underway today after JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi collected biological samples and research hardware from Dragon. Microgravity will give scientists insight into growing organs and observing genetic changes which could impact regenerative medicine.

In the Russian segment of the station, Commander Sergey Ryzhikov explored advanced space photography techniques before working on cargo operations with the docked Progress 76 resupply ship. His fellow cosmonaut, Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, worked on Earth observation hardware then serviced repair tools.