Eye Checks, Pain Studies and Spacesuit Checks Wrap up Workweek

NASA astronaut Christina Koch works on a U.S. spacesuit
NASA astronaut Christina Koch works on a U.S. spacesuit, with a patch of the Italian flag on the left shoulder, that Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) wore during a spacewalk on Dec. 2, 2019.

The Expedition 61 crew is continuing more research today into how the human body adapts to living in microgravity. U.S. spacesuits aboard the International Space Station are also being readied for the first of three spacewalks planned to start Jan. 15.

Eye checks were on the schedule Friday afternoon as astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch took turns as Crew Medical Officer. The duo scanned the eyes of NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan and Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) using an ultrasound device and optical coherence tomography gear.

Morgan started the morning setting up a specialized mouse habitat that can create artificial gravity conditions aboard the orbiting lab. Mice physiology resembles that of humans, providing scientists fundamental insights into cellular and genetic alterations that occur in weightlessness.

Meir is getting the spacesuits ready she and Koch will wear on Jan. 15 and 20 for a pair of power maintenance spacewalks. She scrubbed cooling loops and filled water tanks before checking out suit hardware and checking for leaks. The spacewalking duo will replace older batteries with newer, more powerful batteries on the orbiting lab’s Port-6 truss structure.

In the Russian segment of the space station, cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka focused on life support maintenance and orbital plumbing tasks. Skvortsov also researched how microgravity affects pain sensation while Skripochka photographed the condition of space-exposed hardware.

Crew Working Life Science, Looks Ahead to Upcoming Spacewalks

Astronaut Jessica Meir waves during a spacewalk
Astronaut Jessica Meir waves during a spacewalk with fellow astronaut Christina Koch (out of frame) on Oct. 18, 2019.

Human research and space biology filled the lab schedule aboard the International Space Station today. The Expedition 61 crewmembers are also ramping up for a trio of spacewalks set to begin next week.

NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Meir and Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) started Thursday collecting their blood samples. The duo spun the samples in a centrifuge and stowed them in a science freezer for later analysis. The astronauts also joined cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov for a series of eye checks throughout the day.

Skvortsov also partnered up with cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka for cardiac research. After some Russian lab maintenance work, the pair also filmed educational activities to promote spaceflight for audiences on Earth.

Parmitano later tested how living in microgravity influences an astronaut’s perception of time. At the end of the workday, the ESA commander serviced a research incubator located in the Unity module.

Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan is setting up a mouse habitat in Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. The research facility is part of the Cell Biology Experiment Facility and enables the observation of rodents, which have a physiology similar to humans, in different gravity conditions.

Meir and fellow NASA astronaut Christina Koch are getting ready for two of three spacewalks planned for this month. The spacewalkers will work outside the station on Jan. 15 and 20 to replace older batteries with newer, more powerful batteries on the orbiting lab’s Port-6 truss structure. Morgan and Parmitano are targeting a third spacewalk on Jan. 25 to finish repairing the station’s cosmic particle detector, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

Spacewalk Preps Underway Amidst Space Research

The Expedition 61 crew gathered together for a New Year's Eve meal
The Expedition 61 crew gathers together for a meal. Clockwise from top left are, Christina Koch, Oleg Skripochka, Luca Parmitano, Alexander Skvortsov, Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan.

The Expedition 61 crew is gearing up for the first three spacewalks of 2020 set for this month. Meanwhile, the International Space Station is bustling with an array of microgravity research activities today.

NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch will conduct the first two spacewalks scheduled for Jan. 15 and Jan. 20. The duo will finish replacing older nickel-hydrogen batteries with new lithium-ion batteries on the station’s Port-6 truss structure. They spent Wednesday reviewing spacewalk procedures and inspecting spacesuit tethers.

The next spacewalk would be Jan. 25 following the successful battery replacements. NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) will finish the repair work they started in November on the station’s cosmic particle detector, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

In the midst of the spacewalk preparations, the lab residents kept up the ongoing space science to improve life for humans on and off Earth.

Morgan began the day installing botany research gear inside Japan’s Cell Biology Experiment Facility before transferring resupply racks to the Cygnus space freighter. Parmitano conducted a vision test then cleaned up Rodent Research hardware that housed mice that were returned to Earth aboard the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft.

Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka split their time on Russian science and maintenance tasks. The duo partnered together for a study exploring piloting methods under a variety of gravity conditions. Skvortsov then measured the station’s radiation environment as Skripochka replaced fuel bottles for combustion research.

Dragon Splashes Down in Pacific Returning Science and Cargo

The SpaceX Dragon separates from the International Space Station
A camera on the tip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm views the SpaceX Dragon as it separates from the International Space Station.

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft splashed down at 10:42 a.m. in the Pacific Ocean about 271 miles southwest of Long Beach, California, marking the end of the company’s 19th contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA.

A key component being returned aboard Dragon is a faulty battery charge-discharge unit (BCDU), which failed to activate following the Oct. 11 installation of new lithium-ion batteries on the space station’s truss. The BCDU was removed and replaced during a spacewalk Oct. 18 by Expedition 61 flight engineers Christina Koch and Jessica Meir of NASA. The unit are being returned to teams on Earth for an evaluation and repair.

Dragon launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Dec. 5 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and arrived at the station two days later with almost 3,400 pounds of science, supplies and cargo.

Learn more about station activities by following the space station blog, @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Dragon Released from Station Carrying Science for Earth-Analysis

The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is pictured moments after its release
The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is pictured moments after its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm on January 7, 2020. Credit: @Space_Station

The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft released from the International Space Station at 5:05 a.m. EST after flight controllers in Houston delivered remote commands to the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. Expedition 61 Station Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) will back up the ground controllers and monitor Dragon’s systems as it departs the orbital laboratory.

Next up, Dragon will fire its thrusters to move a safe distance from the station, then execute a deorbit burn as it heads for a parachute-assisted splashdown around 10:41 a.m. in the Pacific Ocean southwest of Long Beach, California. The splashdown will not air on NASA TV.

Some of the scientific investigations Dragon will return to Earth include:

 Tiny Radiation Resistors

Rotifer-B1 examines the effects of spaceflight on tiny aquatic animals, called rotifers, which are found in freshwater ecosystems and soil and are highly resistant to radiation on Earth. The investigation specifically looks at the metabolism and genome of the rotifer Adineta vaga to determine whether they have similar adaptation mechanisms in microgravity.

 Mice in Space

Rodent Research-19 examines myostatin and activin, molecular signaling pathways that influence muscle degradation, as possible targets for preventing muscle and bone loss during spaceflight and enhancing recovery following return to Earth. This study also could support the development of therapies for a wide range of conditions that cause muscle and bone loss on Earth.

 Finding the Perfect Solution

On Earth, our bodies deal with low-level radiation through a naturally occurring protein that helps our body safely process it. The Growth of Large, Perfect Protein Crystals for Neutron Crystallography (Perfect Crystals) study, aims to help scientists find a way to deal with the problem of radiation during long-duration spaceflight missions using the same protein that is already at work in our bodies.

 Convection and Crystallization in Microgravity

The Polymer Convection study examines the effects of gravity on formation and crystallization of Broadband Angular Selective Material (BASM), an optical material with the ability to control the reflection and absorption of light. BASM has applications in polymer packaging, optical films, solar power and electronic displays.

These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations providing opportunities for 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. Conducting science aboard the orbiting laboratory will help us learn how to keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars.

Learn more about station activities by following the space station blog, @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Live Now on NASA TV Dragon Prepares for Station Departure

The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is pictured moments before its release
The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is pictured moments before its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm on June 3, 2019.

NASA Television coverage is underway for departure of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft from the International Space Station. The spacecraft is scheduled for release at approximately 5:03 a.m. EST today.

Dragon will be released from the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module after flight controllers at mission control in Houston deliver remote commands to the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. Expedition 61 Station Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) will back up the ground controllers 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 to leave orbit, as it heads for a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, 202 miles southwest of Long Beach, California, at approximately 10:41 a.m. (7:41 p.m. PST). There will be no live coverage of deorbit burn or splashdown.

A key component being returned aboard Dragon is a faulty battery charge-discharge unit (BCDU), which failed to activate following the Oct. 11 installation of new lithium-ion batteries on the space station’s truss. The BCDU was removed and replaced during a spacewalk Oct. 18 by Expedition 61 flight engineers Christina Koch and Jessica Meir of NASA. The unit will be returned to teams on Earth for an evaluation and repair.

Dragon launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Dec. 5 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and arrived at the station two days later with almost 3,400 pounds of science, supplies and cargo on SpaceX’s 19th commercial resupply mission to the station for NASA.

Learn more about station activities by following the space station blog@space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Science-Filled Dragon Set to Leave Station Tuesday Morning

The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is pictured moments before its release
The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is pictured moments before its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm on June 3, 2019.

Filled with almost 3,600 pounds of valuable scientific experiments and other cargo, a SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft is set to leave the International Space Station Tuesday, Jan. 7. NASA Television and the agency’s website will broadcast its departure live beginning at 4:45 a.m. EST.

Dragon will be released from the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module after flight controllers at mission control in Houston deliver remote commands to the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. Expedition 61 Station Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) will back up the ground controllers and monitor Dragon’s systems as it departs the orbital laboratory. The spacecraft is scheduled for release at approximately 5:03 a.m. EST.

After firing its thrusters to move a safe distance away from the station, Dragon will execute a deorbit burn to leave orbit, as it heads for a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, 202 miles southwest of Long Beach, California, at approximately 10:41 a.m. (7:41 p.m. PST). There will be no live coverage of deorbit burn or splashdown.

Learn more about station activities by following the space station blog@space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Crew Packs Dragon With Science Before Tuesday Departure

The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship approaches the International Space Station
The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship approaches the International Space Station on Dec. 8, 2019, as both spacecraft were orbiting 257 miles above Egypt and about to cross over the Mediterranean Sea.

The SpaceX Dragon is due to leave the International Space Station on Tuesday and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean loaded with critical science and station hardware for analysis. The Expedition 61 crew worked over the weekend and into Monday finalizing cargo transfers.

NASA Flight Engineers Jessica Meir, Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan are carefully packing research samples including live mice inside Dragon for retrieval and analysis on Earth. Morgan and Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) will close the hatches and conduct leak checks before robotics controllers uninstall Dragon from the Harmony module on Monday night.

Most of the crew will be asleep as Parmitano monitors Dragon’s release from the grip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm on Tuesday at 5:03 a.m. EST. The U.S. space freighter will orbit Earth a few more hours before parachuting to a splash down in the Pacific around 10:41 a.m. NASA TV will be live broadcasting Dragon’s departure starting at 4:45 a.m. Tuesday. Splashdown will not be seen on NASA TV.

The two veteran cosmonauts stayed focused on their Russian task list of space science and systems maintenance today. Flight Engineer Alexander Skvortsov started the day on plumbing duty before cleaning fans and filters. Oleg Skripochka worked on heart research before inventorying station tool kits.

Dragon Delays Departure While Crew Studies Space Biology and Botany

Stars glitter in the night sky above an atmospheric glow
Stars glitter in the night sky above an atmospheric glow that blankets the city lights as the International Space Station orbited 259 miles above the Sudanese/Egyptian border before it crossed the Red Sea.

The Expedition 61 crew aboard the International Space Station is preparing to bid farewell to a U.S. space freighter.  The astronauts are also exploring what microgravity does to biology and botany to improve life for astronauts and Earthlings.

Station mission managers and SpaceX officials rescheduled the departure of the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship from the complex from Sunday night to early Tuesday due to a forecast of high seas in the Pacific Ocean splashdown zone. Dragon is now scheduled to be released on Tuesday, Jan. 7, at 5:03 a.m. EST when the Canadarm2 robotic arm will set the craft free following its unbolting from the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module. Dragon will parachute to a splashdown southwest of Long Beach, California, Tuesday at around 10:41 a.m. loaded with station hardware and research results for analysis.

Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan started Friday morning with Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) loading science freezers inside Dragon before next week’s departure. The freezers are packed with a variety of scientific samples that researchers will study to understand microgravity’s impact on a broad spectrum of biology and materials.

Mice, whose physiology is similar to humans, are being examined today to learn how to prevent muscle and bone loss in weightlessness. Doctors are studying ways to minimize the effects of spaceflight by observing the effectiveness of myostatin and activin in mice aboard the station. NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch scanned and imaged the mice today in a bone densitometer measuring their bone mass.

Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan harvested moss today in the Kibo laboratory module collecting and stowing samples for further analysis. The Space Moss study, sponsored by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, is exploring ways to grow strains of plants suited for the gravity conditions of spaceflight, the Moon and Mars.

Veteran cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka started their day videotaping and photographing life on the orbiting lab. The duo then split up servicing Russian life support systems, packing a Progress cargo craft and charging batteries in a Soyuz crew ship.

Life-Saving Science on Last Day of 2019; Crew Relaxes New Year’s Day

The official Expedition 61 crew portrait
The Expedition 61 crew portrait with (from left) NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, astronaut Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency), Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, and NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch.

Six humans from three countries will ring in the new year 16 times tonight from an average altitude of about 260 miles above the Earth’s surface. Before the Expedition 61 crew goes to bed tonight and relaxes on New Year’s Day, they are researching critical space science to benefit humans on and off Earth.

Fire safety is extremely important and even more so aboard a spacecraft. Flight Engineer Jessica Meir of NASA got to work using the Microgravity Science Glovebox and observed how different fabric and acrylic samples burn in microgravity. Space fires spread differently in confined spaces of different shapes and sizes. Scientists will use the data to improve products and procedures to save lives on the ground and in space.

A bone densitometer that images and measures the bone mass of mice living in space is being calibrated today. NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan checked out the sensitive device to ensure accurate measurements. Morgan then switched from biology hardware to tiny satellites and tested formation flying using algorithms programmed in to the free-flying SPHERES.

NASA Flight Engineer Christina Koch is loading the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship today before it departs the International Space Station on Jan. 5. She was measuring the mass of gear returning to Earth using an acceleration device that follows Newton’s Second Law of Motion (force equals mass times acceleration).

Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) reconfigured a specialized incubator that uses a centrifuge to mimic different gravity environments for biology research. Afterward, he installed new components in a life support system that removes carbon dioxide from the station’s atmosphere.

Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka kicked off the last day of 2019 with housecleaning and computer checks. In the afternoon, the duo set up radiation detection gear and serviced Russian life support hardware.