Four Expedition 59 astronauts are taking a three-day weekend aboard the International Space Station after packing a U.S. space freighter for return to Earth. The two cosmonauts focused on exercise studies, physics research and life support maintenance on the Russian side of the orbiting lab.
NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Anne McClain and Nick Hague and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques are relaxing today following last weekend’s SpaceX Dragon cargo loading and closeout activities. The quartet spent the first part of the week cleaning and stowing hardware after Dragon returned to Earth Monday full of completed experiments and station gear for analysis.
Station Commander Oleg Kononenko attached sensors to Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin today monitoring his vital signs during an exercise study to determine the most effective workouts in space. Ovchinin cleaned up afterward then researched plasma crystals, or highly charged micro-particles that form self-organized structures in microgravity. The duo also checked life support systems, configured communications gear and inspected the structural integrity of the station’s Russian segment.
A pair of U.S. and Russian resupply ships have departed the International Space Station this week. Russia’s Progress 71 (71P) cargo craft undocked this morning and the SpaceX Dragon returned to Earth Monday.
The 71P, packed with trash and unused hardware, undocked from the aft end of the Zvezda service module today at 3:40 a.m. EDT. It reentered Earth’s atmosphere and safely burned up over a remote portion of the Pacific Ocean. This completes a mission that began when the 71P launched Nov. 16 and delivered almost three tons of cargo two days later to the Expedition 57 crew.
SpaceX‘s Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 5:48 p.m. EDT (2:48 p.m PDT), approximately 202 miles southwest of Long Beach, California, marking the end of the company’s 17th contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA. The spacecraft returned more than 4,200 pounds of valuable scientific experiments and other cargo.
Some of the scientific investigations Dragon returned to Earth include:
Observing Protein Crystal Growth
NASA’s Biophysics-6 experiment looks at the growth of two proteins of interest in cancer treatment and radiation protection. Scientists are using ground-based predictions and in-space X-ray crystallography to determine which proteins benefit from crystallization in microgravity, where some proteins can grow larger and with fewer imperfections.
Microalgae Biosynthesis in Microgravity
Microalgae Biosynthesis in Microgravity (MicroAlgae) studies the effects of microgravity on Haematococcus pluvialis, an algae capable of producing a powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin. It could provide a readily available dietary supplement to promote astronaut health on long-duration space exploration missions. A community college student and alumnae of the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program proposed the research, and NCAS is engaging community colleges across the U.S. to conduct ground studies for comparison to the in-orbit investigation.
Genes in Space
On May 23, astronauts aboard the space station successfully edited DNA using CRISPR/Cas9 technology for the first time in space, working on the Genes in Space-6 investigation. This milestone advances understanding of how DNA repair mechanisms function in space and supports better safeguards to protect space explorers from DNA damage. Genetic damage caused by cosmic radiation poses a serious risk to space travelers, especially those on long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars. CRISPR/Cas9 now joins a growing portfolio of molecular biology techniques available on the ISS National Lab.
These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations aimed at keeping astronauts healthy during space travel and demonstrating technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, including missions to the Moon by 2024 and on to Mars. Space station research also provides opportunities for other U.S. government agencies, private industry, and academic and research institutions to conduct microgravity research that leads to new technologies, medical treatments, and products that improve life on Earth.
For more than 18 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 230 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,500 research investigations from researchers in 106 countries.
The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was released from the International Space Station at 12:01 p.m. EDT after flight controllers in Houston delivered remote commands to the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. Expedition 59 Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency monitored Dragon’s systems as it departed the microgravity laboratory.
Next up, Dragon will fire its thrusters to move a safe distance from the station and execute a deorbit burn around 4:56 p.m. to leave orbit. Splashdown down is targeted for approximately 5:55 p.m. EDT (2:55 p.m. PDT).
Dragon was detached from the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module at 8:30 a.m. after flight controllers at mission control in Houston delivered remote commands to the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. Expedition 59 Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency will back up the operation and monitor Dragon’s systems as it departs the orbital laboratory.
After firing its thrusters to move a safe distance away from the station, Dragon will execute a deorbit burn around 4:56 p.m. to leave orbit, as it heads for a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, 202 miles southwest of Long Beach, California, at approximately 5:48 p.m. (2:48 p.m. PDT). There will be no live coverage of deorbit burn or splashdown.
Dragon launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket May 4 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and arrived at the station two days later with almost 5,500 pounds of science, supplies and cargo on SpaceX’s 17th commercial resupply mission to the station for NASA.
NASA TV is broadcasting the robotic release of Dragon from the station live on NASA TV beginning Monday at 11:45 a.m. EDT. Robotics controllers will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release the space freighter around 12:09 p.m. while astronaut David Saint-Jacques monitors from the cupola. Dragon will splashdown in the Pacific about 5:48 p.m. and will not be seen on NASA TV.
Several critical experiments have wrapped up aboard the orbiting lab with the completed results and hardware being packed inside the Dragon this weekend. After the space freighter splashes down Monday, it will be towed to shore where the finalized research will be distributed to labs around the world for analysis.
The pair first joined Flight Engineer Nick Hague during the morning checking out space biology hardware and transferring more frozen research samples into Dragon’s science freezers. Hague and McClain then participated in regularly scheduled eye exams in the afternoon.
Two Expedition 59 cosmonauts are finalizing reviews before Wednesday morning’s spacewalk for maintenance outside the International Space Station. Meanwhile, the orbital residents are also readying completed experiments for return to Earth inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft next week.
Commander Oleg Kononenko is set to begin his fifth career spacewalk Wednesday at 11:44 a.m. EDT. He will lead first-time spacewalker Alexey Ovchinin during the six-hour-15-minute excursion on the Russian segment of the orbital lab. They will retrieve experiment hardware, clean lab windows and jettison old cables among other tasks.
The duo reviewed their spacewalk tasks and worksites alongside NASA astronaut Christina Koch this morning. Koch will assist the pair with their Russian Orlan spacesuits in the Pirs airlock before and after Wednesday’s spacewalk.
The SpaceX Dragon launched a multitude of life science experiments studying immunology, crystallography, microphysiology and other space phenomena to the station May 4. The completed research samples and science hardware will now return to Earth inside Dragon after it departs the station’s Harmony module June 3. NASA Flight Engineer Anne McClain is readying the commercial space freighter for departure and beginning the work to pack the finalized experiments for analysis in labs across the globe.
Four Expedition 59 astronauts spent Friday investigating a multitude of space biology phenomena while two cosmonauts continued preparing for an upcoming spacewalk. International Space Station hardware is also ready for return to Earth inside the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship.
The crew is exploring how space impacts a variety of microscopic physiological processes today to get humans ready to go to the Moon in 2024. DNA, pathogens and microalgae as well as their benefits and risks to astronauts are just some of the microbiological systems scientists are studying in space.
The Bio-Analyzer is a new device from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) being tested aboard the space station for its ability to process and analyze biological samples quickly. CSA astronaut David Saint-Jacques added his blood samples to the biomedical device today so doctors could check his biomarkers from the ground.
NASA astronaut Christina Koch studied a pair of yeast strains today using the miniPCR hardware for the Genes In Space-6 study. The experiment is exploring how space radiation damages DNA and how the cell repair mechanism works in microgravity. Koch later tended to plants grown inside the Veggie PONDS botany facility.
More research into why pathogens become more virulent in space continued today as Flight Engineer Nick Hague processed culture samples for the microbiology study. Hague also checked on microalgae sample packs that may serve as a dietary supplement for future astronauts.
Hague also configured a variety of space biology hardware, both large and small, ensuring critical research operations continue successfully on the orbital lab. He first worked on a pair of refrigerator-sized Human Research Facility racks before checking out the shoebox-sized TangoLab-1 facility that enables a variety of tissue, cell and botany investigations.
Anne McClain of NASA turned her attention Friday to old hardware disconnected during a spacewalk earlier this year. She will retrieve a failed Battery Charge Discharge Unit (BCDU) resting outside the Kibo laboratory module’s airlock and bring it inside the station. The Canadarm2’s robotic hand, known as Dextre, removed the BCDU early Thursday from a truss structure logistics carrier and placed it outside Kibo. The BCDU will be packed aboard the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft for analysis after it returns to Earth June 3.
Two cosmonauts are getting ready for the fourth station spacewalk this year scheduled to take place May 29. Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin tagged up with Russian spacewalk specialists on the ground today for assistance setting up their Orlan spacesuits. The duo will remove experiments, sample station surfaces and jettison obsolete hardware during their six-hour excursion.
A pair of robotic arms from Canada and Japan continued swapping experiment hardware on the International Space Station over the weekend. Meanwhile, the Expedition 59 crew started the week exploring robotics and biology today while a pair of cosmonauts look to the next spacewalk.
The Canadarm2 next removed the Space Test Program-Houston 6 (STP-H6) experiment from Dragon and installed it on the station’s truss structure. STP-H6 provides a platform for studying space physics to improve spacecraft navigation and communication techniques. The Canadian robotic arm then removed the completed SCAN radio communications study from the truss and placed it inside Dragon’s trunk.
JAXA’s robotic arm also retrieved the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) experiment from the station and handed it off to the Canadarm2 for installation inside Dragon’s trunk. CATS successfully began demonstrating atmospheric monitoring after its delivery aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo craft in January 2015. CATS and SCAN will now burn up in the atmosphere when Dragon’s trunk separates from the resupply ship before it returns to Earth at the end of May.
Two cosmonauts, Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin, are planning for the fourth spacewalk at the station this year on May 29. The duo is timelined for about six hours of experiment retrieval work, window cleaning and sample collecting on the station’s Russian segment.
The Expedition 59 crew focused intensely on human research today to improve the health of people on Earth and in space. The residents aboard the International Space Station are busy exploring how the human body and other organisms adapt to space helping NASA prepare to go to the moon by 2024.
Astronauts Christina Koch and Anne McClain split Friday checking on the Kidney Cells experiment seeking innovative treatments for kidney stones, osteoporosis and toxic chemical exposures. Counteracting the space-exacerbated symptoms is critical to the success of a long-term spaceflight to the moon and Mars.
McClain started her day with Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineers Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin researching space-caused head and eye pressure. The quartet tested a specialized suit, the Lower Body Negative Pressure suit, that reverses the upward flow of blood and other fluids toward an astronaut’s head. The crewmates also participated in ultrasound scans of their eyes and veins for the long-running Fluid Shifts study.
In addition, a pair of Canadian and Japanese robotic arms on the station are coordinating to swap external payloads over the weekend. Two Earth and space research facilities inside the SpaceX Dragon’s trunk are being removed for installation on the station. An older atmospheric experiment that has completed its mission will be placed back in Dragon’s trunk.
Finally, Japan’s robotic arm attached to Kibo will hand off the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) to the Canadarm2 for installation in Dragon’s trunk. Before Dragon splashes down in the Pacific at the end of May, its trunk with CATS inside will separate during reentry and burn up over Earth’s atmosphere.
A SpaceX Dragon resupply ship delivered CATS in January of 2015 for robotic installation on Kibo’s external pallet. CATS successfully demonstrated low cost atmospheric monitoring techniques from the station.