Crew Examines Worms, Explores Space Manufacturing During Spacewalk Preps

Three spaceships are pictured attached to the space station as the orbital complex flew 261 miles above the Bay of Bengal.
Three spaceships are pictured attached to the space station as the orbital complex flew 261 miles above the Bay of Bengal.

Two NASA astronauts are getting their tools and spacesuits ready for Sunday’s spacewalk to ready the International Space Station for new solar arrays. Meanwhile, the rest of the Expedition 64 crew focused on a variety of space research on Thursday.

NASA Flight Engineers Kate Rubins and Victor Glover are finalizing their preparations for a planned six-and-a-half hour spacewalk set to begin Sunday at 6 a.m. EST. NASA TV will begin its live spacewalk beginning at 4:30 a.m.

Rubins and Glover configured spacewalk tools and checked U.S. spacesuits today before calling down to experts in Mission Control to report on their readiness. The duo today also continued reviewing the spacewalk procedures they will use to upgrade power channels that will soon support new solar arrays. Those solar arrays will be shipped on upcoming Space Dragon cargo missions for installation this year.

Science is always ongoing aboard the space station, not just with crew inputs but also remotely from scientists on the ground. Results and insights help improve industry, business and medicine on Earth and in space.

Worms are being observed on the station after their arrival on Monday inside the Cygnus resupply ship from Northrop Grumman. Astronauts Shannon Walker and Michael Hopkins examined the tiny worms with a microscope to explore how microgravity affects gene expression and muscle strength.

JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Soichi Noguchi worked on advanced space science hardware to explore different space manufacturing techniques. He first installed the new Industrial Crystallization Facility that will demonstrate commercial crystal production available only in space. Next, he checked samples inside the Electrostatic Levitation Furnace that investigates the thermophysical properties of commercial materials exposed to extreme temperatures.

Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov split their day working on batteries, cameras and laptop computers.

Crew Gets Ready for Cargo Missions, Opens New Airlock

Earth's atmospheric glow and the aurora blanket the horizon as the space station orbited above the North Atlantic.
Earth’s atmospheric glow and the aurora blanket the horizon as the space station orbited above the North Atlantic.

Two cargo rockets on opposite sides of the world are nearing their launch to resupply the Expedition 64 crew this month. A new science and cargo airlock installed late last year on the International Space Station is now open for business.

Russia’s Progress 76 (76P) cargo craft, packed with trash and discarded hardware, will depart the orbiting lab tonight completing a 201-day mission attached to the Pirs docking compartment. It will deorbit a few hours later for a fiery, but safe destruction over the South Pacific.

The 76P will be replaced after the Progress 77 (77P) cargo craft blasts off on Feb. 14 at 11:45 p.m. EST from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The 77P will dock to the vacant Pirs port a little more than two days later on Feb. 17 at 1:20 a.m. The launch and docking activities will be broadcast live on NASA TV.

The next cargo mission to resupply the station will be Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo ship lifting off atop an Antares rocket on Feb. 20 from Virginia. Cygnus will be delivering about 8,000 pounds of station hardware, science experiments, and crew supplies to replenish the orbiting lab on Feb. 22. It will be captured with the Canadarm2 robotic arm and installed to the Unity module‘s Earth-facing port.

Aboard the space station today, NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Victor Glover configured and opened the NanoRacks Bishop airlock. Bishop was attached to the station’s Tranquility module on Dec. 19 two weeks after it was delivered inside the SpaceX Cargo Dragon spacecraft. Bishop will enable more commercial research, satellite deployments, and cargo operations outside in the vacuum of space.

SpaceX Cargo Dragon Splashes Down Loaded With Science Experiments

The insignia for the SpaceX CRS-21 mission that saw the upgraded Cargo Dragon resupply ship automatically dock to the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter, a first for a U.S. commercial cargo spacecraft.
The insignia for the SpaceX CRS-21 mission that saw the upgraded Cargo Dragon resupply ship automatically dock to the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter, a first for a U.S. commercial cargo spacecraft.

SpaceX’s upgraded Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down at 8:26 p.m. EST west of Tampa off the Florida coast, marking the return of the company’s 21st contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA. The spacecraft carried more than 4,400 pounds of valuable scientific experiments and other cargo back to Earth.

The upgraded cargo Dragon capsule used for this mission contains double the powered locker availability of previous capsules, allowing for a significant increase in the research that can be delivered back to scientists. Some scientists will get their research returned quickly, four to nine hours after splashdown.

Some of the scientific investigations Dragon returns to Earth are:

Cardinal Heart

Microgravity causes changes in the workload and shape of the human heart, and it is still unknown whether these changes could become permanent if a person lived more than a year in space. Cardinal Heart studies how changes in gravity affect cardiovascular cells at the cellular and tissue level using 3D-engineered heart tissues, a type of tissue chip. Results could provide new understanding of heart problems on Earth, help identify new treatments, and support development of screening measures to predict cardiovascular risk prior to spaceflight.

Space Organogenesis

This investigation from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) demonstrates the growth of 3D organ buds from human stem cells to analyze changes in gene expression. Cell cultures on Earth need supportive materials or forces to achieve 3D growth, but in microgravity, cell cultures can expand into three dimensions without those devices. Results from this investigation could demonstrate advantages of using microgravity for cutting-edge developments in regenerative medicine and may contribute to the establishment of technologies needed to create artificial organs.

Sextant Navigation

The sextant used in the Sextant Navigation experiment will be returning to Earth. Sextants have a small telescope-like optical sight to take precise angle measurements between pairs of stars from land or sea, enabling navigation without computer assistance. Sailors have navigated via sextants for centuries, and NASA’s Gemini missions conducted the first sextant sightings from a spacecraft. This investigation tested specific techniques for using a sextant for emergency navigation on spacecraft such as NASA’s Orion, which will carry humans on deep-space missions.

Rodent Research-23

This experiment studies the function of arteries, veins, and lymphatic structures in the eye and changes in the retina of mice before and after spaceflight. The aim is to clarify whether these changes impair visual function. At least 40 percent of astronauts experience vision impairment known as Spaceflight-Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS) on long-duration spaceflights, which could adversely affect mission success.

Thermal Amine Scrubber

This technology demonstration tested a method to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from air aboard the International Space Station, using actively heated and cooled amine beds. Controlling CO2 levels on the station reduces the likelihood of crew members experiencing symptoms of CO2 buildup, which include fatigue, headache, breathing difficulties, strained eyes, and itchy skin.

Bacterial Adhesion and Corrosion

Bacteria and other microorganisms have been shown to grow as biofilm communities in microgravity. This experiment identifies the bacterial genes used during biofilm growth, examines whether these biofilms can corrode stainless steel, and evaluates the effectiveness of a silver-based disinfectant. This investigation could provide insight into better ways to control and remove resistant biofilms, contributing to the success of future long-duration spaceflights.

Fiber Optic Production, which includes the return of experimental optical fibers created in microgravity using a blend of zirconium, barium, lanthanum, sodium, and aluminum. The return of the fibers, called ZBLAN in reference to the chemical formula, will help verify experimental studies that suggest fibers created in space should exhibit far superior qualities to those produced on Earth.

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.

Astronauts Relax After Sending Off U.S. Cargo Ships

The seven-member Expedition 64 crew poses for a portrait inside the space station's Kibo laboratory module.
The seven-member Expedition 64 crew poses for a portrait inside the space station’s Kibo laboratory module.

One U.S. crew ship and three Russian spaceships remain parked at the International Space Station after the departure of two U.S. space freighters this month. Most of the Expedition 64 crew is relaxing today while a pair of cosmonauts focus on Russian maintenance and science.

Five astronauts, four from NASA and one from JAXA, are taking it easy aboard the orbiting lab today. The quintet kicked off the New Year loading a pair of U.S. cargo ships to wrap up their cargo missions less than a week apart. This followed a busy December full of space research to benefit humans living on and off the Earth.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo craft left the station first on Jan. 6 following its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Cygnus will orbit Earth until Jan. 26 for flight tests and remotely controlled science experiments before its fiery, but safe descent above the South Pacific.

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship undocked on Tuesday from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter, a first for a U.S. commercial cargo spacecraft. It will splashdown Wednesday night in the Gulf of Mexico carrying science experiments and station hardware for retrieval and analysis.

JAXA Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi did start Wednesday collecting his urine samples for a Russian biomedical study before taking the rest of Wednesday off. Station Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos also participated in the study that seeks to understand how the human body adapts to weightlessness.

Ryzhikov then moved on to Russian spacecraft activities packing the Progress 76 cargo craft and charging batteries inside the Soyuz MS-17 crew ship. Kud-Sverchkov worked on life support gear and deployed radiation detectors in the station’s Russian segment.

Cargo Dragon Undocks from Station and Heads for Splashdown

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle begins its separation from the station after undocking from the Harmony module's international docking adapter. Credit: NASA TV
The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle begins its separation from the station after undocking from the Harmony module’s international docking adapter. Credit: NASA TV

With NASA astronaut Victor Glover monitoring aboard the International Space Station, an upgraded SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft undocked from the International Docking Adapter on the station’s space-facing port of the Harmony module at 9:05 a.m. EST.

It is the first undocking of a U.S. commercial cargo craft from the complex. Previous cargo Dragon spacecraft were attached and removed from the space station using the station’s robotic Canadarm2.

Dragon will fire its thrusters to move a safe distance from the space station during the next 36 hours. On Wednesday, Jan. 13, Dragon will conduct a deorbit burn at 7:37 p.m. to begin its re-entry sequence into Earth’s atmosphere. Dragon is expected to splash down west of Tampa off the Florida coast about 8:27 p.m. The splashdown will not be broadcast.

The upgraded cargo Dragon capsule used for this mission contains double the powered locker availability of previous capsules, allowing for a significant increase in the research that can be carried back to Earth.

Splashing down off the coast of Florida enables quick transportation of the science aboard the capsule to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, delivering some science back into the hands of the researchers as soon as four to nine hours after splashdown. This shorter transportation timeframe allows researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects. Previous cargo Dragon spacecraft returned to the Pacific Ocean, with quick-return science cargo processed at SpaceX’s facility in McGregor, Texas, and delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Dragon launched Dec. 6 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, arriving at the station just over 24 hours later and achieving the first autonomous docking of a U.S. commercial cargo resupply spacecraft. The spacecraft delivered more than 6,400 pounds of hardware, research investigations and crew supplies.

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.

Dragon Departure Live Now on NASA TV

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle is pictured docked to the Harmony module's space-facing international docking adapter. Credit: NASA TV
The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle is pictured docked to the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. Credit: NASA TV

NASA Television and the agency’s website are broadcasting live coverage for the departure of an upgraded SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft from the International Space Station. NASA astronaut Victor Glover is monitoring the activity aboard the station.

The targeted undocking time has been moved to optimize communication coverage; commands to undock will be sent at 9 a.m. EST with physical separation of the two spacecraft about 9:05 a.m.

The undocking will be the first time a U.S. commercial cargo craft autonomously departs from the station’s International Docking Adapter.

The spacecraft is filled with more than 4,400 pounds of valuable scientific experiments and other cargo to return to Earth to complete SpaceX’s 21st commercial resupply services mission for NASA.

Dragon will fire its thrusters to move a safe distance from the station’s space-facing port of the Harmony module and exit the area of the space station to begin its return to Earth. On Wednesday, Dragon will initiate a deorbit burn to begin its re-entry sequence into Earth’s atmosphere then make a parachute-assisted splashdown around 8:27 p.m. – the first return of a cargo resupply spacecraft off the Florida coast west of Tampa. The deorbit burn and splashdown will not be broadcast.

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: @issISS on Facebook, and on Twitter @Space_Station and @ISS_Research.

SpaceX Waves off Undocking of Cargo Dragon

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle is pictured docked to the Harmony module's space-facing international docking adapter. Credit: NASA TV
The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle is pictured docked to the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. Credit: NASA TV

As a result of adverse weather conditions at the targeted splashdown zone off the coast of Daytona Beach, Florida, SpaceX has waved off today’s planned departure of an upgraded SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft.

Teams are currently assessing weather conditions to determine the next opportunity for undocking.

Splashing down off the coast of Florida enables quick transportation of the science aboard the capsule to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, delivering some science back into the hands of the researchers as soon as four to nine hours after splashdown. This shorter transportation timeframe allows researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects. Previous cargo Dragon spacecraft returned to the Pacific Ocean, with quick-return science cargo processed at SpaceX’s facility in McGregor, Texas, and delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

For updated information about space station activities, 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.

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.

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.