Time Perception, Immersive Exercise, and Nanoparticles Rule the Day

Expedition 65 Commander Akihiko Hoshide, pictured inside the Columbus laboratory module, wears virtual reality goggles for a time perception study.
Expedition 65 Commander Akihiko Hoshide, pictured inside the Columbus laboratory module, wears virtual reality goggles for a time perception study.

Wednesday’s activities aboard the International Space Station remained focused on science and maintenance. In preparation of Russia’s Multipurpose Laboratory Module docking to the outpost the following day, July 29, Russian Cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy located and gathered equipment to set up temporary ventilation for the 43-foot long, 23-ton module. Live coverage of tomorrow’s event begins at 8:30 a.m. EDT on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.

Commander Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet took turns participating in a study that explores how astronauts perceive time in microgravity, which can impact physical and cognitive performance. Pesquet, along with NASA Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Shane Kimbrough, continued operations for the Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates from Colloidal Ellipsoids, or InSPACE-4. This physics study investigates ways to produce high-quality protein crystals in microgravity to benefit pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries on Earth.

Astronauts exercise two hours a day to help compensate for the loss of bone and muscle mass from living and working in weightlessness. However, their daily workout can quickly become repetitive in the closed and unchanging environment, leading to lack of motivation. The Immersive Exercise project aims to break the monotony with virtual reality (VR). In support of the first experiment session, Pesquet retrieved all the equipment and successfully completed the session by exercising on the bike with a VR headset.

Space gardening is key to sustaining human spaceflight as NASA and its international partners plan future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. NASA Flight Engineer Megan McArthur and Kimbrough continued to work on the Plant Water Management study, an investigation that demonstrates how to operate hydroponics in microgravity. The duo conducted operations, set up, and configured hardware for the botany study that, eventually, may also improve watering systems on Earth.

Meanwhile, two astronauts worked on maintenance activities. Hoshide replaced holder and installed cartridges on the Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (ELF) developed by JAXA. The ELF is a facility for materials science that melts levitating materials with a very high melting point, measures their properties, and solidifies them from a super-cooled state by taking advantage of the microgravity environment. In addition, Pesquet added ice bricks into the ESA-built Minus Eighty Laboratory Freezer, or MELFI, for the space station. The ice bricks provide cooling, or incubation, to the samples stored inside double-cold bags, which are insulated stowage bags used to transport samples to and from the orbiting laboratory.

Crew Members Carry Out Hardware Installations and Complete Science Experiments

Expedition 65 Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei is pictured inside the International Space Station’s Harmony module working on maintenance activities.
Expedition 65 Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei is pictured inside the International Space Station’s Harmony module working on maintenance activities.

Following the successful undocking of the Russian Progress 77 cargo spacecraft with the Pirs docking compartment yesterday, the Expedition 65 crew aboard the International Space Station continued to work on science and maintenance on the station.

Today, NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei focused on hardware installation of Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) helmet assembly. He installed and inspected the helmet lights and the Rechargeable ExtraVehicular Activity Battery Assembly, or REBA. He also spent time installing a high-definition camera for the EMU helmet. Commander Akihiko Hoshide assisted Vande Hei with the hardware installation.

In preparation for science operations later this week, NASA Flight Engineers Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur prepared the Maintenance Work Area and set up the Plant Water Management (PWM) test stand for the PWM 3 & 4 investigations, which demonstrate passive measures for controlling fluid delivery and uptake in plant growth systems.

Other science experiments included ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet manually injecting algae on Cell Science-04 cassettes as part of the Cell Science-04 algae injection operations. In addition, Hoshide and Pesquet took turns on experiment runs for the Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates from Colloidal Ellipsoids, or InSPACE-4. This investigation looks into the assembly of tiny structures from colloids using magnetic fields and could shed light on how to harness nanoparticles to fabricate and manufacture new materials.

The crew, including Hoshide, Vande Hei, Kimbrough, McArthur, and Pesquet, filled out questionnaires as part of the Human Research Facility Veg study, which focuses on the overall behavioral health benefits of having plants and fresh food in space — like the various plants grown aboard the orbiting outpost thanks to other microgravity investigations.

Ahead of NASA’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission, Hoshide and Kimbrough completed additional training to familiarize themselves with Starliner rendezvous and monitoring procedures.

On Thursday, July 29, the space station is set to receive a new module in the form of Russia’s Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), which is scheduled to dock to the station at 9:24 a.m. EDT. Named Nauka, after the Russian word for “science,” MLM launched on July 21 and will serve as a new science facility, docking port, and spacewalk airlock for future operations.

Crewmembers Focus on Science and Prepare for Upcoming Dockings and Undockings

Fresh vegetables float around NASA astronaut and Expedition 65 Flight Engineer Megan McArthur.
Fresh vegetables float around NASA astronaut and Expedition 65 Flight Engineer Megan McArthur. She and other astronauts are participating in a study to evaluate the effects of menu fatigue on crew.

A delay in the undocking events scheduled for tomorrow gave the crew of Expedition 65 aboard the International Space Station extra time to focus on training, science, and maintenance today.

Russia’s Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) launched on July 21, and to provide more time for Russian flight controllers to check out MLM’s status, the undocking of the Russian Progress 77 and Pirs docking compartment has been postponed until Saturday, July 24. The space station crew has been notified. Progress 77 undocking with the Pirs docking compartment is now scheduled for 8:28 am EDT. Live coverage on NASA TV, the agency’s website, and the NASA app will begin at 8 am.

On Thursday, July 29, MLM is scheduled to dock at the station. Named Nauka, after the Russian word for “science,” MLM will serve as a new science facility, docking port, and spacewalk airlock for future operations.

Once Pirs and Progress 77 are decoupled from the station on Saturday, they will undergo a de-orbit maneuver that will send it towards Earth to disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere. In preparation, Russian Cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Oleg Novitskiy performed a series of maintenance tasks today.

The crew also prepared for another upcoming event: the scheduled arrival of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner at the space station on July 31 as part of  NASA’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission. NASA Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Shane Kimbrough along with station Commander Akihiko Hoshide, a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut, received training on procedures relating to the approach, docking, and undocking of Starliner.

A full suite of science interspersed these maintenance and training tasks. The crew continued its focus on eye health, remotely guided by scientists on Earth. NASA astronaut Megan McArthur along with Hoshide and Vande Hei set up hardware and helped each other administer drops that dilate their eyes so that onboard equipment can capture 3-D images of their eyes’ internal structures. They also performed vision tests. The low gravity on the space station can change eye shape in some astronauts, so monitoring eye health is important to ensuring crew health.

Astronauts also continued work on science experiments that could provide insight into how to harness nanoparticles to fabricate and manufacture new materials. McArthur, Vande Hei, and Kimbrough all ran tests for the Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates from Colloidal Ellipsoids, or InSPACE-4, study. Magnetic fields used in the experiment, when combined with the station’s low gravity, allow particles to be observed in a suspended state, which is ideal for monitoring their interactions with light and heat.

In addition, Kimbrough, Vande Hei, and McArthur completed surveys about their recent meals that will allow scientists to study menu fatigue. In space, menu fatigue can have serious consequences. Lost appetites could result in astronauts not eating enough food, which may lead to body mass loss, nutritional deficiencies, and other health issues, particularly on long-duration missions.

Meanwhile, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet focused his attention on testing how the KEyence Research Microscope Testbed (KERMIT) would work in different locations on the station. KERMIT is designed to streamline imaging and analysis through a single platform with easy operation by the station crew as well as by remote operatiors on the ground. With real-time guidance from researchers on Earth, Pesquet moved KERMIT along with other equipment that can characterize vibrational disturbances caused by the microscope when in use. He then tested whether KERMIT’s functionality could be retained in this new location.