Station Crew Splits Up Thursday before Next Cargo Mission

Expedition 61 astronauts
Clockwise from left are, NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Luca Parmitano. Parmitano is the Expedition 61 Commander leading Flight Engineers Koch, Morgan and Meir aboard the International Space Station.

The crew aboard the International Space Station is preparing to split up while also getting ready for a U.S. space delivery.

NASA astronaut Christina Koch is packing up and cleaning her crew quarters today ahead of her return to Earth early Thursday. She will board the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship on Wednesday about 9:30 p.m. EST with crewmates Alexander Skvortsov of Roscosmos and Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency).

The trio will undock Thursday at 12:50 a.m. then parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan at 4:12 a.m. (3:12 p.m. Kazakh time). NASA TV begins its live coverage Wednesday at 9 p.m. when the departing crew says farewell to their station counterparts and closes the Soyuz hatch.

This will cap a 328-day-long mission for Koch that began on March 14. She is now in second place for the single longest spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut surpassed only by former astronaut Scott Kelly with 340 days during his final station mission.

Expedition 62 will officially begin when Koch and her Expedition 61 crewmates undock from the Poisk module. Continuing their stay in space will be Commander Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos and NASA Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan. They will end their stay aboard the orbiting lab and return to Earth in April.

Meir and Morgan are getting ready for another mission that begins Sunday when Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo craft lifts off at 5:39 p.m. It will rendezvous with the station Tuesday where the duo will be in the cupola to capture Cygnus at 3:30 a.m. with the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Ground controllers will then remotely command the Canadarm2 to install Cygnus to the Unity module where it will stay for 90 days. Cygnus will be delivering over 8,000 pounds of new research gear and crew supplies.

Station Preps for Crew Departure and New U.S. Cargo Ship

NASA astronaut Christina Koch works on the Cold Atom Lab
NASA astronaut Christina Koch works on the Cold Atom Lab that enables research into the quantum effects of gases chilled lower than the average temperature of the universe.

NASA astronaut Christina Koch and two fellow Expedition 61 crewmembers are in their final week aboard the International Space Station. The other three lab residents are gearing up for next week’s arrival of a U.S. space freighter.

Koch will wrap up a 328-day mission aboard the orbiting lab on Thursday. Koch blasted off to join the station crew on March 14 with Expedition 59-60 crewmates Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin. Hague and Ovchinin have since returned home on Oct. 3.

Koch will land in Kazakhstan Thursday at 4:12 a.m. EST (3:12 p.m. Kazakh time) aboard the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship with Alexander Skvortsov of Roscosmos and Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency). Skvortsov and Parmitano began their mission with NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan on July 20. Morgan is due to return to Earth in April.

When Koch lands, her mission-stay will be second only to former astronaut Scott Kelly. He lived aboard the station for 340 continuous days for the single longest spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut.

She and her two homebound crewmates prepared today for the flight back to Earth. The trio familiarized themselves with the return procedures and the gravity loads they will experience upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere.

Expedition 62 officially begins when Koch and her crewmates undock Thursday at 12:50 a.m. Morgan and fellow NASA astronaut Jessica Meir will continue their stay in space with Commander Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos.

Meir and Morgan are getting ready for the next Cygnus space freighter and its cargo of several tons of science experiments and crew supplies. Cygnus will launch Sunday at 5:39 p.m. and rendezvous with the station two days later for a robotic capture at 4:30 a.m.

Cardiology, Combustion and CubeSats Before Cargo Ship Leaves

Astronauts (from left) Christina Koch, Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan
Astronauts (from left) Christina Koch, Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan pose for a portrait inside the cupola. The trio were on robotics duty monitoring the arrival and capture of the Cygnus space freighter on Nov. 4, 2019.

Cardiology, combustion and CubeSats filled Thursday’s research schedule as three Expedition 61 crewmates are one week away from returning to Earth. The Cygnus space freighter is also poised to depart the International Space Station on Friday and complete one more mission.

NASA astronaut Christina Koch is nearing the end of her 328-day mission aboard the orbiting lab. She will land in Kazakhstan Feb. 6 aboard the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship with Alexander Skvortsov of Roscosmos and Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency). Koch blasted off to join the station crew on March 14 while Skvortsov and Parmitano began their mission on July 20.

When Koch lands, her mission-stay will be the second longest single spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut behind former astronaut Scott Kelly. He lived aboard the station for 340 continuous days.

NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan juggled a pair of experiments this morning. He ran the Hourglass study observing how simulated planetary materials behave during different gravity conditions. Next, he cleaned a furnace that exposes materials to high temperatures and levitates them to research their thermophysical properties.

Parmitano started his day on cardiology research before switching to fire safety studies. The station commander first scanned portions of his body with an ultrasound device. The biomedical study is helping doctors understand what happens to the heart and blood vessels in space. He then moved on and burned a variety of fabric and acrylic samples. Scientists are using the data to model how flames spread in space to improve fire safety procedures and products in space and on Earth.

The Cygnus space freighter is packed, closed and ready for one more mission after its robotic release from the Canadarm2 Friday at 9:35 a.m. EST. It will deploy eight CubeSats for communications and atmospheric research several hours after departing the orbiting lab. Flight Engineer Jessica Meir installed the CubeSats, packed inside the SlingShot small satellite deployer, on Cygnus’ hatch Thursday afternoon.

Crew Works Human Research, CubeSats and Gears Up for Spaceship Departures

The Cygnus space freighter with its prominent cymbal-shaped solar arrays
The Cygnus space freighter with its prominent cymbal-shaped solar arrays is pictured attached to the Unity module. Behind Cygnus is one of the space station’s basketball court-sized solar arrays.

The Expedition 61 crew’s schedule was packed today as they researched space biology and packed a pair of spaceships for departure. Wednesday morning also saw the deployment of an experimental satellite outside the International Space Station.

Blood draws and eye checks are part of the crew’s regimen of biomedical activities to help doctors keep astronauts healthy during long-term space missions. Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) collected his blood samples this morning before spinning them in a centrifuge and stowing them in a science freezer for later analysis. NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Meir had her eyes scanned in the afternoon by fellow NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan using optical coherence tomography gear.

Meir and Morgan started the day finishing up packing the Cygnus space freighter with trash and discarded gear before it leaves at the end of the week. Cygnus will be detached from the Unity module with the Canadarm2 robotic arm and released into Earth orbit on Friday at 9:35 a.m. EST. NASA TV will cover the release and departure live as mission controllers on the ground remotely command all the robotics work.

Cygnus has another mission to deploy eight CubeSats for communications and atmospheric research once it reaches a safe distance away from the orbiting lab. The space station also saw the deployment early this morning of a Department of Defense CubeSat that is testing space weather and satellite sensor technology. That satellite was deployed outside of the Kibo laboratory module using the specialized Cyclops deployer.

Christina Koch of NASA is returning to Earth next week after 328 days in space on her first mission. She will land in Kazakhstan with Parmitano and cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov. The trio will board the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship, undock from the Poisk module and parachute to a landing Friday, Feb. 6, at 4:13 a.m. (3:13 p.m. Kazakh time).

Koch will be second only to former astronaut Scott Kelly who lived in space 340 days for the single longest spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut.

Science Soon Resumes on Cosmic Ray Detector, Crew Packs Cargo Ship for Departure

Spacewalkers Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano
Spacewalkers Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano work on get-ahead tasks after completing thermal repairs on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

Engineers on the ground have begun powering up the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer’s (AMS) thermal system following a successful repair spacewalk over the weekend. The Expedition 61 astronauts are now preparing a U.S. cargo craft for its departure at the end of the week.

It took four spacewalks over three months to restore and upgrade thermal operations on the AMS. Astronauts Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano wrapped up the complex repair job on Saturday for the 8-year-old cosmic particle detector. Soon after the spacewalk, payload controllers reported stable cooling operations on the AMS, and are continuing to monitor its thermal conditions. The AMS will soon resume its search for evidence of dark matter and antimatter once the system checkouts are complete.

The crew are now turning their attention to packing Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus resupply ship with trash and discarded hardware. Robotics controllers in Mission Control will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release Cygnus on Friday at 9:35 a.m. EST after 88 days attached to the Unity module. The private cargo carrier will reenter Earth’s atmosphere over the South Pacific for a fiery, but safe disposal.

NASA Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Christina Koch started Monday on housecleaning tasks. They were joined by Morgan and Parmitano cleaning fans and filters and disinfecting surfaces containing microbes and condensation.

Cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov is getting the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship ready for its return to Earth on Feb. 6. He will parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan with Koch and Parmitano just three and half hours after undocking from the Poisk module. Koch will have lived in space continuously for 328 days on her first mission, second only to former astronaut Scott Kelly who lived in space 340 days for the single longest spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut.

Expedition 61 Ready for Saturday Spacewalk During Human Research Today

An aurora blankets the Earth beneath a celestial night sky
An aurora blankets the Earth beneath a celestial night sky as the space station orbited 261 miles above the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North America.

The Expedition 61 astronauts are ready to finish repairing the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) after wrapping up their spacewalk preparations today. The International Space Station residents today also had time to explore what microgravity is doing to their muscles and digestive system.

Astronauts Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano have readied the U.S. spacesuits they will wear for about six hours and thirty minutes beginning Saturday at 6:50 a.m. EST. They will finalize the complex thermal repairs on the AMS, a dark matter and antimatter detector, installed in 2011 on the Starboard-3 truss structure.

Morgan and Parmitano were joined by NASA Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Christina Koch for a final procedures review with mission controllers on the ground. Meir and Koch will operate the Canadarm2 robotic arm carefully making fine-tuned maneuvers to assist the spacewalkers at the AMS worksite.

Meir and Koch began their workday by performing scans of their neck, arm, leg and feet muscles with an ultrasound device. The scans are downlinked to doctors studying how weightlessness affects the biochemical properties of muscles. The pair also collected their blood samples and stowed them in a science freezer for the human research study. Insights my impact health strategies on future long-term space missions.

Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka spent Friday morning on a Russian digestion study today scanning their stomachs with another ultrasound device before and after breakfast. They split up in the afternoon working on a variety of station hardware maintenance and crew departure activities.

Spacewalk Preps Underway as Station Orbits Higher Ahead of Crew Departure

Astronaut Andrew Morgan
Astronaut Andrew Morgan holds on to a handrail during the second spacewalk to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on Nov. 22, 2019.

The International Space Station is orbiting higher today as three Expedition 61 crewmates get ready to return to Earth in two weeks. Meanwhile, two astronauts are finalizing preparations for a spacewalk early Saturday.

Russia’s Progress 74 cargo craft fired its engines twice boosting the space station’s altitude Thursday morning. The orbital adjustment sets up the correct trajectory for the undocking and landing of the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship on Feb. 6.

The Soyuz MS-13 will be commanded by Alexander Skvortsov returning home with astronauts Christina Koch and Luca Parmitano. The trio will parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan at 4:14 a.m. EST (3:14 p.m. Kazakh time). Koch will have lived in space continuously for 328 days, second only to U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly with 340 days.

The third spacewalk of January 2020 is set to begin Saturday at 6:50 a.m. EST with live NASA TV coverage getting under way at 5:30 a.m. Parmitano with NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan will complete the complex thermal repairs on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a dark matter and antimatter detector.

Koch and fellow NASA astronaut Jessica Meir will assist the spacewalkers with the Canadarm2 robotic arm and are getting up to speed with the fine-tuned robotics maneuvers. They were joined by Morgan and Parmitano as the quartet reviewed spacewalk tasks and procedures.

Spacewalking Team Relaxing as Cosmonauts Work Science, Crew Departure

Astronauts Luca Parmitano and Andrew Morgan
(From left) Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan work on U.S. spacesuits they will wear on a spacewalk scheduled for Jan. 25.

The Expedition 61 spacewalking team aboard the International Space Station is taking a light-duty day ahead of this weekend’s excursion. Meanwhile, the Russian space residents researched human biology and prepared for a crew departure early next month.

Astronauts Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano took it easy on Tuesday, relaxing before they begin a six-hour spacewalk on Saturday at 6:50 a.m. EST to repair a cosmic ray detector. The duo began organizing their spacewalk tools, custom-designed for the unique job, just after lunch today. NASA TV will start its live broadcast of the spacewalk at 5:30 a.m.

NASA Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Christina Koch spent an hour today reviewing Canadarm2 robotics procedures they will use to assist Saturday’s spacewalkers. Meir and Koch also spent the majority of the day relaxing, having completed two spacewalks in less than a week on Monday.

The Russian duo, cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka explored ways to maximize the effectiveness of space exercise. They also studied wearing and operating a specialized suit, the Lower Body Negative Pressure suit, which counteracts the upward flow of body fluids caused by microgravity.

Skvortsov is also packing the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship that will return him, Koch and Parmitano to Earth on Feb. 6. The trio will undock and parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan. Koch will have accumulated 328 consecutive days in space upon landing second only to U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly with 340 days.

Spacewalkers Switch Focus to Final Repairs on Cosmic Ray Detector

Reflection in NASA astronaut Jessica Meir's spacesuit helmet
The reflection in NASA astronaut Jessica Meir’s spacesuit helmet is fellow NASA astronaut Christina Koch photographing her crewmate during a spacewalk

The Expedition 61 astronauts have one more spacewalk planned this weekend and they will finish the repair of a cosmic ray detector. This will be the ninth spacewalk for the crew, more than in any other increment in the history of the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch have turned their attention from Monday’s spacewalk to help two crewmates going on a very different spacewalk on Saturday. The pair completed a spacewalk yesterday upgrading power systems on the Port-6 truss structure.

Spacewalkers Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) will finalize thermal repairs on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) on Saturday. The AMS, installed in 2011 on the Starboard-3 truss structure, is an astrophysics device searching for evidence of dark matter and antimatter.

The duo will set their U.S. spacesuits to internal power Saturday at 6:50 a.m. EST signifying the official start of their spacewalk. NASA TV begins its live broadcast of the planned six-hour AMS repair excursion at 5:30 a.m.

Meir and Koch will be getting up to speed this week with the Canadarm2 robotics procedures necessary to assist Morgan and Parmitano during Saturday’s spacewalk. The quartet gathered together Tuesday afternoon and began reviewing the spacewalk plan with specialists in Mission Control.

Meir, Koch Complete Battery Swaps to Upgrade Station Power Systems

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir enters the Quest airlock
NASA astronaut Jessica Meir enters the Quest airlock to complete a spacewalk after swapping batteries on the International Space Station that store and distribute solar power collected for the solar arrays.

At 1:33 p.m. EST, Expedition 61 Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Christina Koch of NASA concluded their third spacewalk together. During the six hour and 58-minute spacewalk, the two NASA astronauts successfully completed the battery upgrade for one channel on one pair of the station’s solar arrays.

Today’s work included removing the last two nickel-hydrogen batteries from this area of the station’s backbone near the port solar array and moving them to an external platform. The batteries will be stored there until they can be disposed of in the next Japanese HTV cargo spacecraft after it delivers tons of supplies to the space station later this year. Meir and Koch also installed the sixth and final new lithium-ion battery, and ground controllers verified the new batteries powered up successfully to provide an improved and more efficient power capacity for station operations.

The spacewalkers concluded their work by paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Meir said he was a personal hero and looking down on planet Earth reminded her of his words: “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Koch noted how much is owed to those who worked for civil rights and inclusion and “paved the way for not only us, but so many who have a dream.”

This was the second spacewalk outside the station in 2020. Space station crew members have now conducted 226 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory. Spacewalkers have spent a total of 59 days, 6 hours, and 10 minutes working outside the station. It is the third time all spacewalkers have been women and the 45th spacewalk to include women.

NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and space station Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) will conduct the next spacewalk Saturday, Jan. 25, to finish installing the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer’s (AMS) new cooling apparatus and lines and verify they are ready for use. Morgan and Parmitano began that work during three spacewalks in November and December 2019.

Today’s spacewalk was the third for Meir, who now has spent a total of 21 hours and 44 minutes spacewalking, and the sixth for Koch for a total of 42 hours and 15 minutes. Koch is third place behind Peggy Whitson and Suni Williams for cumulative time by a female spacewalker and 21st on the all-time spacewalk list for aggregate time.

Koch arrived to the orbiting laboratory in March 2019 and is nearing the end of an extended duration mission. She holds the record for longest single spaceflight by a woman and will return to Earth on Feb. 6. Her extended mission provides researchers the opportunity to observe effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman to prepare for human missions to the Moon and Mars. Meir arrived in Sept. 2019 and is due to return in April.

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.