Astronauts Release U.S. Spacecraft Completing Cargo Mission

Cygnus Released
The Cygnus cargo craft slowly departs the space station after its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Credit: NASA TV

Expedition 56 Flight Engineers Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) and Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA commanded the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to release the Cygnus cargo spacecraft at 8:37 a.m. EDT. At the time of release, the station was flying 253 miles above the Southeastern border of Colombia. Earlier, ground controllers used the robotic arm to unberth Cygnus.

The departing spacecraft will move a safe distance away from the space station before deploying a series of CubeSats. Cygnus will remain in orbit for two more weeks to allow a flight control team to conduct engineering tests.

Cynus is scheduled to deorbit with thousands of pounds of trash on Monday, July 30, as it burns up harmlessly over the Pacific Ocean while entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The satellite deployment and deorbit burn will not be broadcast on NASA Television.

The spacecraft arrived on station May 24 delivering cargo for Orbital ATK’s (now Northrop Grumman’s) ninth contracted mission under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.

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

Cancer, Fertility Research and Cargo Work Fill Crew Schedule

NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold
NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold is inside the seven-windowed Cupola that provides views of the Earth below as well as approaching and departing resupply ships.

The Expedition 56 crew members explored a variety of microgravity science today potentially improving the lives of people on Earth and astronauts in space. The orbital residents are also unpacking a new resupply ship and getting ready for the departure of another.

Cancer research is taking place aboard the International Space Station possibly leading to safer, more effective therapies. Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor contributed to that research today by examining endothelial cells through a microscope for the AngieX Cancer Therapy study. AngieX is seeking a better model in space to test a treatment that targets tumor cells and blood vessels.

She also teamed up with Commander Drew Feustel imaging biological samples in a microscope for the Micro-11 fertility study. The experiment is researching whether successful reproduction is possible off the Earth.

The Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter has been packed full of trash and is due to leave the space station Sunday morning. Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release Cygnus at 8:35 a.m. EDT as Auñón-Chancellor backs him up.  It will orbit Earth until July 30 for engineering studies before burning up harmlessly over the Pacific Ocean.

Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Sergey Prokopyev were back at work unpacking cargo delivered Monday aboard the new Progress 70 cargo craft. The 70P will stay at the station’s Pirs docking compartment until January.

Crew Unpacking New Cargo, Researching Life Science Before Sunday Ship Departure

Expedition 56-57 crewmates
Expedition 56-57 crewmates (from left) Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA; Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency); and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos.

Expedition 56 crew members are transferring cargo in and out of U.S. and Russian cargo ships today. Two astronauts are also planning to release a U.S. resupply ship on Sunday ending its mission at the International Space Station.

Astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst were back inside the SpaceX Dragon today unloading science gear and station hardware from inside the space freighter. Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos continued unloading the nearly three tons of crew supplies and station hardware delivered Monday aboard the new Progress 70 cargo craft.

The Cygnus resupply ship will complete its stay at the orbital Sunday at 8:35 a.m. EDT after 52 days attached to the Unity module. Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) will use the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release Cygnus back into Earth orbit backed up by Auñón-Chancellor of NASA. Cygnus will remain in orbit until July 30 supporting engineering activities before it is deorbited to burn up harmlessly over the Pacific Ocean.

Space research aboard the orbital lab is always ongoing as the crew explored a variety of life science today. The space residents explored how microgravity impacts fertility, algae production and the gastrointestinal system. The crew also completed routine eye checks with an ultrasound device Wednesday morning to maintain good vision during spaceflight.


Get weekly video highlights at: http://jscfeatures.jsc.nasa.gov/videoupdate/

Cargo Ships and Cancer Research Keeps Orbital Lab Humming

The Northrop Grumman (formerly Orbital ATK) Cygnus resupply ship
The Northrop Grumman (formerly Orbital ATK) Cygnus resupply ship with its round, brass-colored UltraFlex solar arrays is guided to its port on the Unity module shortly after it was captured with the Canadarm2 robotic arm on May 24, 2018.

Russia’s Progress 70 (70P) cargo craft delivered nearly 5,700 pounds of crew supplies and station cargo to the International Space Station on Monday less than four hours after launch. Meanwhile, the U.S. Cygnus resupply ship from Northrop Grumman tested its ability to boost the orbital laboratory’s altitude today.

Monday’s arrival of the Russian resupply craft set a milestone for station operations by arriving with its cargo in just 3 hours and 40 minutes, or only two Earth orbits. The new Progress makes six spacecraft parked at the orbital complex including the Progress 69 resupply ship, the Soyuz MS-08 and MS-09 crew ships and the SpaceX Dragon and Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighters.

The engine on Northrup Grumman’s Cygnus cargo ship fired for 50 seconds Tuesday at 4:25 p.m. EDT to reboost the station in a test designed to verify an additional capability to adjust the station’s altitude, if required. The brief engine firing raised the station’s altitude by about 295 feet. Cygnus will depart the station on Sunday after delivering several tons of supplies and science experiments back in May for the six crewmembers on board.

Astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst continued more life science work today exploring cancer research and fertility. Serena split her time today between testing ways to develop safer, more effective cancer therapies and exploring how living in space impacts fertility. Gerst set up a specialized microscope to look at proteins that could be used for cancer treatment and radiation protection.

Crew Researching Microbes and Plants For Space and Earth Benefits

Expedition 56 Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency
Astronaut Alexander Gerst is seated in the Columbus laboratory module participating in the Grip study. Grip is researching how the nervous system adapts to microgravity. Observations may improve the design of safer space habitats and help patients on Earth with neurological diseases.

The Expedition 56 crew members researched microbes and plants today and conducted more eye exams to benefit future space residents as well as people on Earth. The Cygnus space freighter continues to be packed for its release in July as robotics controllers get ready to inspect the vehicle.

NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor stowed genetically modified microbes in a science freezer that will be analyzed for their ability to compete with petrochemical production processes on Earth. Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold, also from NASA, thinned plants for the Plant Habitat-1 experiment that is comparing plants grown in microgravity to those grown on Earth.

Arnold and Auñón-Chancellor later joined Commander Drew Feustel for more eye checks. The trio used optical coherence tomography to capture 2D and 3D imagery of the eye to help doctors understand how living in space affects eyesight.

European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst was packing Cygnus with trash and old gear today ahead of its July 15 release.

Crew Studies How Space Affects Time Perception, Exercise and Eyesight Today

Cygnus and Soyuz spacecraft
The Northrop Grumman (formerly Orbital ATK) Cygnus commercial space freighter with its cymbal-like Ultra-Flex solar arrays and the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft are pictured in this fish-eye lens view from a window on the International Space Station.

Quite a wide variety of science activities took place today aboard the International Space Station exploring time perception, exercise and eyesight. The Expedition 56 crew members also worked on station plumbing, stowed satellite deployer gear and checked out communications gear.

Two-time station resident Alexander Gerst started his morning helping doctors understand how living in space alters time perception and impacts crew performance. Later he strapped himself into an exercise bike and attached electrodes to his chest to monitor his pulmonary function during the workout session.

NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold, Drew Feustel and Serena Auñón-Chancellor teamed up for eye exams with an ultrasound device to study microgravity’s effects on eyesight. The scans were downlinked real-time to scientists on Earth observing the retina and optic nerve while monitoring the health of the astronaut’s eyes.

Auñón-Chancellor started her day changing out a filter and valve in the station’s bathroom located in the Tranquility module. She then checked out Wi-Fi gear connected to antennas installed during a March 29 spacewalk after assisting Feustel in the Japanese Kibo lab module. The duo stowed gear after Wednesday’s successful deployment of a satellite to demonstrate space junk clean up.

Arnold was set to install radio frequency tags today to improve tool tracking but that task was postponed till after the Cygnus cargo ship departs July 15. He then moved on to emergency communication tests with control centers around the world before light maintenance work on a 3D manufacturing device.

New Satellite, Space Research and Cargo Missions Fill Crew Agenda

Astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor
Astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor collects breath samples to analyze and measure red blood cell function for the Marrow investigation.

The International Space Station deployed a satellite this morning to demonstrate the potential of removing space junk. Back inside the orbital lab, the Expedition 56 crew explored space physics, studied human research and conducted an emergency drill.

A new satellite was deployed into space today from outside the Japanese Kibo laboratory module. Officially named the NanoRacks-Remove Debris satellite, it will explore using a 3D camera to map the location and speed of space debris. It will also deploy a net to capture a nanosatellite that will simulate space junk.

NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold worked inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox to troubleshoot gear today for a semiconductor crystal growth experiment. Alexander Gerst, of the European Space Agency, set up dosimeters and measured the station’s acoustic levels to understand the effects on crews.

Arnold later joined fellow Soyuz MS-08 crewmates Drew Feustel of NASA and Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos for an emergency drill. The trio practiced evacuating the station in their Soyuz crew ship in the unlikely event of an emergency.

U.S. and Russian cargo ships are due to launch to the space station this summer. Another cargo craft is due to end its stay at the orbital lab next month. SpaceX is counting down to a June 29 launch of its Dragon cargo ship. Roscosmos will launch its Progress 70 cargo craft on July 9. Finally, the Cygnus space freighter attached to the Unity module is due to end its stay July 15.

Captain’s Log – The Last Week

Expedition 55 Crew Portrait
The six member Expedition 55 crew poses for a portrait in the Japanese Kibo laboratory module.

  • Crew: Captain Scott ”Maker” Tingle, USN
  • ISS Location: Low Earth Orbit
  • Earth Date: 4 March 2018
  • Earth Time (GMT): 13:30

Wow, time has gone by extremely fast. The mid-deployment phase will be short-lived for me this time, as the new crew (Drew Feustel, Ricky Arnold, and Oleg Artemyev) will arrive on March 23rd, and then we have at least one spacewalk on the 29th, followed by a planned SpaceX Dragon cargo craft arrival on the 4th of April. It’s a little strange being up here with only two other crewmates. We are still very busy, but the overall work effort is half of what it was just a week ago. My crewmate, Nemo (Norishige Kanai), and I are trying to use the time to prepare for the upcoming very busy schedule, and we have been having some great success getting a ton of details taken care of.

I can’t believe that Expedition 55 is already over. Today is Sunday, and we will depart the International Space Station (ISS) next Sunday morning. 168 days in space. There have been many challenging moments, but even more positive highlights of our time on ISS. The new crew from the Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft (Oleg Artymyev, Drew Feustel, and Ricky Arnold) joined Norishige Kanai (Nemo), Anton Shkaplerov, and I last March. Since then, we have completed two spacewalks, captured and released the SpaceX Dragon-14 cargo craft, captured the Cygnus OA-9 cargo craft, and completed a myriad of maintenance and science activities. The team on the ground controlling, monitoring, supporting, and planning has been amazing. It is always great to work with them, and especially during the moments where the equipment, tools, procedures or crew need help. It is incredible to see how much a good team can accomplish when methodically placing one foot in front of the other. I have been lucky in that the first crew (Mark Vande Hei, Joe Acaba and Alexander Misurkin (Sasha)) and the second crew (Drew, Ricky and Oleg) were all amazing to work with. I do believe the planets aligned for my mission onboard ISS. Drew and Ricky have been friends forever, and listening to them nip at each other provided a ton of great humor for the ground and for us. Their one-liners to each other reminded me of several scenes from the movie Space Cowboys. This a great example that happened as I was writing this log entry:

Ricky:  Hey Maker, is this your smoothie?
Maker:  No.
Ricky:  It must Drew’s.
Drew:  Hey Ricky, don’t drink my smoothie.
Ricky:  What smoothie? This one has my name on it (as he writes his name on it).
Drew:  Okay, Grandpa Underpants, hands off my smoothie.
Ricky:  Okay, Feustelnaut – we have rules around here, so this is my smoothie now!
All:  Much laughing.

To quote my kids: “LOL!”

One the hardest things to do in space is to maintain positive control of individual items such as tools, spare parts, fasteners, etc. We try very hard not to lose things, but even with all of the attention and positive control, items can still float away and disappear. We generally hold items in a crew transfer bag (CTB).  Inside the CTB are many items for the system that it supports. When the CTB is opened, the items are free floating inside the bag and tend to escape. It is very difficult to maintain control of the items – especially if they are small, do not have Velcro, or when the daily schedule is so tight that we are rushing to stay on time.   We always try to close the CTB’s and Ziploc bags after removing or replacing each item to maintain positive control, but this takes much more time to do for individual items, and if the timeline is tight, we absorb more risk by rushing. The same applies for tools, which we usually keep in a Ziploc bag while working on individual systems and tasks. Last month, I was installing a new low temperature cooling loop pump that had failed a month or two earlier. I gathered the needed tools into my modified (with Velcro) Ziploc bag as I always do and floated over to the work area. When I got there, one of the tools that I had gathered was missing. I looked for 30 minutes, and could not find it. Lost items are very hard to find because the items that escape are usually barely moving and blend in with the environment very quickly. A lost item could be right in front of us and we would never see it. Our crew, after learning these lessons, decided that when anyone loses something, we would tell the other crew members what we had lost with a general location. This has had a huge impact on finding items. If a different crew member can help within the first minutes of losing an item, the new crew member has an excellent chance of finding the item. We have proven this technique several times during the expedition – and Nemo was the very best at quickly finding lost items.  But, in my case, we still could not find the missing tool. Our amazing ground team understood and vectored me to a replacement tool and I finished the job. I spent the next 3 weeks watching, looking, and never forgetting about the lost tool. Then, one day last week, Oleg came to the lab and handed us a tool he had found in his Soyuz spacecraft, way on the aft side of the ISS. Amazing. We finally found the tool and I was happy again. This was a lucky ending. ISS has many corners, crevices and hard-to-see areas where missing items could hide and never be found.

We captured a Cygnus cargo craft last Thursday. I was very impressed with the entire team. Our specialists and training professionals in Mission Control did a great job preparing the necessary procedures and making sure we were proficient and ready to conduct operations. The robotic arm is a wonderful system that we could not operate ISS without. Being in space, however, it has some very unique handling qualities. If you think about a spring-mass-damper system just as you did during physics or control theory class, and then remove the damper, you will see a system that is very subject to slow rate oscillations.  In test pilot terms, damping ratio is very low and the latency is well over a half of a second. Also in test pilot terms – this is a pilot-induced oscillations (PIO) generator. These characteristics require crew to “fly” the robotic arm using open-loop techniques, which requires a huge amount of patience. Test pilots are sometimes not very patient, but understanding the system and practicing with the incredible simulators that our ground team built and maintain help keep our proficiency as high as possible. The capture went flawlessly, and I was very impressed with the professionalism across the board – crew, flight controllers, and training professionals – what a great job!

Drew, Ricky and I got to play guitar a few times while on ISS. This was fun! Drew connected pickups to the acoustic guitars and then connected the pickups to our tablets for amplification. I’ve never heard an acoustic guitar sound like an electric guitar amped up for heavy metal before. We had a great jam on the song “Gloria”, and a couple others. Rock on!

Last night we had our last movie night. The entire crew gathered in Node 2 and watched Avengers Infinity Wars on the big screen. We enjoy each other’s company, as we did during Expedition 54, and this was a welcome break from the daily grind of trying to complete the required stowage, maintenance and science activities while preparing for departure.

Our last full weekend here on ISS. I gave myself a haircut. We usually clean our spaces each weekend to make sure we can maintain a decent level of organization, efficiency and morale. This weekend is no different, and it is time for me to vacuum out all of our filters and vents. You’d be amazed at what we find!

The top 5 things I will miss when I am no longer in space:

  1. The incredible team that supports ISS operations from our control centers
  2. The camaraderie onboard ISS
  3. The breathtaking view of the Earth, Moon, Sun and Stars
  4. Floating/flying from location to location with very little effort
  5. Operations in the extreme environment of space

Crew Unloading Cygnus While New Trio Preps for Launch

Expedition 56 prime and backup crew members pose for pictures
The next three crew members to launch to the space station and their backups pose for a portrait at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. From left are Expedition 56-57 crew members Alexander Gerst, Sergei Prokopyev and Serena Auñón-Chancellor with back up crew members Anne McClain, Oleg Kononenko and David Saint-Jacques.

The Expedition 55 crew is unloading the Orbital ATK Cygnus space freighter today ahead of next week’s crew swap at the International Space Station. On top of the cargo transfers and crew departure activities, the orbital residents are also running space experiments to benefit humans on Earth and astronauts in space.

NASA Flight Engineer Scott Tingle has been working inside Cygnus today unpacking station hardware and research gear delivered just last week. He removed science kits and spacewalking gear and stowed them throughout the orbital lab.

Tingle finally wrapped up his workday with his homebound crewmates Commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineer Norishige Kanai preparing for their June 3 return to Earth. The trio packed personal items and other gear inside the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft that will parachute the crew to a landing in Kazakhstan after 168 days in space.

Back on Earth, Soyuz MS-09 Commander Sergey Prokopyev and Flight Engineers Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst are in final training in Kazakhstan ahead of their June 6 launch to the space station. The Expedition 56-57 trio will orbit Earth for two days before docking to the Rassvet module to begin a six-month stay in space.

NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel, who are staying in space until Oct. 4, familiarized themselves today with the new Cold Atom Lab’s hardware and installation procedures. The device, delivered last week on Cygnus, will research what happens to atoms exposed to temperatures less than a billionth of a degree above absolute zero.

The two later split up as Arnold set up thermal hardware that will help scientists understand the processes involved in semiconductor crystal growth. Feustel moved on and began uninstalling a plant biology facility, the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS), which has finalized its research operations. The EMCS will now be readied for return to Earth aboard the next SpaceX Dragon cargo craft.

Robotics Controllers Install Cygnus Resupply Ship on Station

May 24, 2018: International Space Station Configuration
May 24, 2018: International Space Station Configuration. Four spaceships are attached to the space station including the Orbital ATK Cygnus resupply ship, the Progress 69 resupply ship and the Soyuz MS-07 and MS-08 crew ships.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship was bolted into place on the International Space Station’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 8:13 a.m. EDT. The spacecraft will spend about seven weeks attached to the space station before departing in July. After it leaves the station, the uncrewed spacecraft will deploy several CubeSats before its fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere as it disposes of several tons of trash.

Orbital ATK’s Cygnus was launched on the company’s Antares rocket Monday, May 21, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The spacecraft’s arrival brings about 7,400 pounds of research and supplies to support Expedition 55 and 56. Highlights include:

  • The Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST), an investigation to identify unknown microbial organisms on the space station and understand how humans, plants and microbes adapt to living on the station
  • The Cold Atom Laboratory, a physics research facility used by scientists to explore how atoms interact when they have almost no motion due to extreme cold temperatures
  • A unique liquid separation system from Zaiput Flow Technologies that relies on surface forces, rather than gravity, to extract one liquid from another
  • The Ice Cubes Facility, the first commercial European opportunity to conduct research in space, made possible through an agreement with ESA (European Space Agency) and Space Applications Services.
  • The Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification (MICS) experiment is to investigate and understand the complex process of cement solidification in microgravity with the intent of improving Earth-based cement and concrete processing and as the first steps toward making and using concrete on extraterrestrial bodies.
  • Three Earth science CubeSats
    • RainCube (Radar in a CubeSat) will be NASA’s first active sensing instrument on a CubeSat that could enable future rainfall profiling missions on low-cost, quick-turnaround platforms.
    • TEMPEST-D (Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems Demonstration) is mission to validate technology that could improve our understanding of cloud processes.
    • CubeRRT (CubeSat Radiometer Radio Frequency Interference Technology) will seek to demonstrate a new technology that can identify and filter radio frequency interference, which is a growing problem that negatively affects the data quality collected by radiometers, instruments used in space for critical weather data and climate studies.

For more information about newly arrived science investigations aboard the Cygnus, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/station