BEAM Opens for Tests, Crew Checks Body Shape

Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet
Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet are pictured inside BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. Pesquet is also wearing the experimental SkinSuit.

BEAM was opened for a short time Thursday so the crew could install sensors inside the expandable module. The Expedition 50 space residents also explored how the body changes shape and how to prevent back pain during long-term missions.

BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, had its hatches opened temporarily so astronaut Peggy Whitson could install temporary sensors and perform a modal test, which has the astronaut use their fist to impart loads on the module. The sensors are measuring the resulting vibrations and how the module holds up to impacts. BEAM is an expandable habitat technology demonstration, which is a lower-mass and lower-volume system than metal habitats and can increase the efficiency of cargo shipments, possibly reducing the number of launches needed and overall mission costs.

Whitson also joined Commander Shane Kimbrough for body measurements to help NASA understand how living in space changes an astronaut’s physical characteristics. The duo collected video and imagery and measured chest, waist, hip arms and legs to help researchers learn how physical changes impact suit sizing.

An experimental suit called the SkinSuit is being studied for its ability to offset the effects of microgravity and prevent lower back pain and the stretching of the spine. Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet wore the SkinSuit today and documented his comfort, range of motion and other aspects of the suit.


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Astronauts Welcome Super Bowl Fans and Explore Gut Microbes

Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough
Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough called down to Houston and welcomed football fans to Super Bowl LI festivities. Credit: NASA/James Blair

A pair of NASA astronauts on the International Space Station called down to Houston today as the city gets ready to host Super Bowl LI on Sunday. Johnson Space Center officials, media and visitors gathered at Space Center Houston to hear Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson and Commander Shane Kimbrough welcome everyone as NASA participates in Super Bowl festivities this week.

As NASA and the city of Houston welcome football fans, the Expedition 50 crew aboard the International Space Station continued advanced space research to benefit humans on Earth and in space.

The astronauts explored how the immune system adapts in outer space by collecting their biological samples for the Multi-Omics study. The experiment, which began in March 2015 when the One-Year mission began, is researching gut microbes and metabolism to determine how living in space affects the human immune function.

Scientists and engineers are using the station as a platform to explore technologies for removing space debris from Earth orbit and returning samples from planetary surfaces. The crew members set up tiny internal multi-use satellites known as SPHERES to demonstrate capturing a space object and tugging it. Researchers are testing software to improve computer models to make space safer from space junk and improve planetary science.


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Russian Space Freighter Leaves Station

Jan. 31, 2017 Space Station Configuration
The departure of the Russian Progress 64 cargo craft leaves two Soyuz spaceships docked at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

The Russian 64 Progress cargo vehicle undocked from the Pirs docking compartment at 9:25 a.m. EST. The Russian Progress 64 arrived at the space station July 18, after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan July 17. After more than six months at the station, the spacecraft is scheduled to deorbit at 12:34 p.m. where it will burn up harmlessly over the Pacific Ocean.

For more information about the International Space Station, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/station.


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Scientists Study Crew Adapting to New Tech

Astronaut Shane Kimbrough
Astronaut Shane Kimbrough is seen inside his spacesuit during a spacewalk on Jan. 13, 2017.

Scientists are researching how International Space Station astronauts adapt to new technology as NASA prepares to send humans beyond low-Earth orbit. Crew members will have to learn how to operate new types of spacecraft and adjust to planetary surfaces with different microgravity environments.

As part of this research, Expedition 50 Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson from NASA and Thomas Pesquet from ESA started Monday morning with an interactive test on an iPad. The test is part of the Fine Motor Skills experiment that observes how astronauts interact with new technologies potentially influencing the design of future spaceships, spacesuits and habitats.

Commander Shane Kimbrough worked throughout the day on science hardware. He rebooted a computer on the MERLIN science freezer before swapping hard drives on a device that observes meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere. In the afternoon, Kimbrough videotaped himself reading a children’s book and performing a simple light experiment for school kids on Earth.

The three cosmonauts, Oleg Novitskiy, Andrey Borisenko and Sergey Ryzhikov, worked in the station’s Russian segment on a variety of science and maintenance tasks. The trio explored the human digestion system and collected blood samples for a bone loss study.


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Sixth Japanese HTV Cargo Ship Leaves Station

The Japanese HTV-6 Resupply Ship
The Japanese HTV-6 resupply ship is pictured just before its release on astronaut Shane Kimbrough’s 100th day in space. Credit: @Astro_Kimbrough

Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA commanded the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to release a Japanese cargo vehicle at 10:46 a.m. EST. At the time of release, the station was flying 261 statute miles above the south Atlantic Ocean. Earlier, ground controllers used the robotic arm to unberth the cargo craft.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) H-II Transport Vehicle-6 (HTV-6) arrived to the space station Dec. 13, after launching from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan Dec. 9.

The cargo ship will now move to a safe distance below and in front of the station for about a week’s worth of data gathering with a JAXA experiment designed to measure electromagnetic forces using a tether in low-Earth orbit. JAXA is scheduled to deorbit the craft on Feb. 5. Loaded with trash, the vehicle will burn up harmlessly over the Pacific Ocean.

For more information about the International Space Station, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/station.


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Spaceship Ready for Release as Crew Studies Vision

Astronauts Thomas Pesquet and Shane Kimbrough
Astronauts Thomas Pesquet (left) and Shane Kimbrough pose for a portrait with Japan’s HTV-6 resupply ship orbiting a short distance away from the space station’s cupola on Dec. 13, 2016.

The Expedition 50 crew is getting ready for Friday morning’s release of Japan’s sixth cargo craft to visit the International Space Station. The station residents are also continuing to explore how their eyes adapt to living in space for months at a time.

The Kounotori HTV-6 resupply ship, from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, is being disconnected from station systems today as it prepares for its departure Friday at 10:30 a.m. EST. Overnight, ground controllers will operate the Canadarm2 and maneuver the HTV-6 away from the Harmony module where it is attached.

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA will then command the 57.7-foot-long robotic arm to release Kounotori back into orbit. After the HTV supports science experiments for a week, Japanese flight controllers will command the craft to deorbit on Feb. 5 for a fiery reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

More Fluid Shifts research took place today as astronauts study the possibility of using a special suit, the Lower Body Negative Pressure (LBNP) suit, to prevent the upward flow of fluids towards the head caused by microgravity. This headward flow may be causing pressure on the back of crew members’ eyes potentially causing damage and affecting vision.

During the afternoon, the crew also participated in ultrasound eye scans. Doctors on the ground assisted the crew to ensure good views of the optic nerve, cornea and back of the eye.


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Crew Checks Eyes after Japanese Cargo Ship Packed

The Expedition 50 Crew
The six-person Expedition 50 crew poses for a group portrait inside the Columbus lab module from the European Space Agency. (Top row from left) Flight Engineers Thomas Pesquet, Peggy Whitson and Oleg Novitskiy. (Bottom row from left) Flight Engineer Andrey Borisenko, Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryzhikov.

The Japanese HTV-6 resupply ship is packed and ready for its release Friday from the International Space Station. European astronaut Thomas Pesquet will command the Canadarm2 to release the HTV-6 at 10:30 a.m. EST. Afterward, it will enter Earth’s atmosphere for a fiery disposal over the Pacific Ocean. NASA TV will broadcast the release and departure activities live beginning at 10 a.m.

More eye exams were on the Expedition 50 crew’s timeline today to ensure the astronauts maintain good vision and help researchers understand the effects of microgravity on eyesight. The space residents used typical optometry instruments to look at the retina and the interior back of the eye.

The crew also worked on maintenance tasks throughout the orbital laboratory. Gear used to analyze particles in the space station’s atmosphere was replaced after a failure was detected in a spectrometer device. Water samples were also collected from the station’s life support systems for quality checks and analysis on the ground. The next SpaceX Dragon mission is due to return these samples and other cargo back to Earth after a launch date is announced.


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Fluid Studies Today Benefit Astronauts and Kids

Expedition 50 flight engineer Thomas Pesquet
Expedition 50 flight engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) juggles a set of video cameras in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station.

The Expedition 50 crew members explored a variety of space phenomena today to help researchers improve life for humans and stimulate children’s curiosity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Scientists are working to understand how fluids behave not just in spacecraft fuel tanks and containers but also inside an astronaut’s body. Microgravity creates a headward flow of fluids that increases pressure on the back of an astronaut’s eyes potentially causing damage and affecting vision.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and her Soyuz crewmates Oleg Novitskiy and Sergey Ryzhikov explored the effectiveness of a suit that may reverse these upward fluid shifts. Whitson and Novitskiy used a combination of eye exams and ultrasound artery scans on Ryzhikov today while he wore the Lower Body Negative Pressure (LBNP) suit today. The LBNP may offset the microgravity-induced fluid shifts possibly reducing the risk of vision changes in space.

Commander Shane Kimbrough reached out to schoolchildren this morning reading a story book and videotaping a simple fluids experiment. The Story Time From Space series seeks to increase science literacy by engaging students and teachers.


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Japanese Cargo Ship Set to Leave Friday

Japan's HTV-6 Resupply Ship
Japan’s HTV-6 resupply ship is pictured attached to the Harmony module during robotics operations.

Mission controllers are preparing to release Japan’s Kounotori cargo ship from the International Space Station at the end of the week. Meanwhile, the Expedition 50 crew is getting ready for a new protein crystal experiment and reconfiguring combustion science gear.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is getting ready to complete its sixth cargo mission to the station. Overnight, robotics controllers maneuvered Canada’s 57.7-foot-long robotic arm holding an external pallet with discarded nickel-hydrogen batteries and installed them inside the Japanese cargo ship for disposal.

Next, the Canadarm2 will release Japan’s HTV-6 resupply ship from the Harmony module Friday for a fiery re-entry back in Earth’s atmosphere. The HTV-6 arrived Dec. 13 four days after its launch from the Tanegashima Space Center carrying crew supplies, new science experiments and lithium-ion batteries to upgrade the station’s power supply.

The California-based space company SpaceX is planning its tenth station cargo mission. The Dragon cargo craft will deliver a new experiment to study protein crystals to help scientists design better drugs to fight diseases. In advance of the Dragon delivery, Astronaut Peggy Whitson set up the Light Microscopy Module with new lenses today to get ready for the new experiment installation.

Commander Shane Kimbrough is getting the Combustion Integrated Rack ready for the Cool Flames Investigation (CFI). That study will observe how fuels burn at lower temperatures with no visible flames. CFI may engineers develop advanced engines and fuels and improve crew safety.


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Astronauts Improving Space Science Productivity

Astronaut Thomas Pesquet
European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet poses with a photo of several of his European astronaut predecessors taken aboard the International Space Station.

The International Space Station residents are wrapping up their work week today installing and checking science communications gear. The Expedition 50 crew is also continuing to explore how long-term space flight affects eyesight.

Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet worked on increasing the operations and communication capabilities of science gear. The duo worked on separate devices to improve data transfers between different science racks allowing more research to be conducted on orbit.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson joined cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Andrey Borisenko for ongoing research into eye damage and vision changes that may be caused by living in space. A possible solution to the upward fluid pressure that may harm an astronaut’s eyes is the Lower Body Negative Pressure (LBNP) suit

Whitson donned the suit today which pulls fluids down towards the feet to offset the headward flow. Novitskiy and Borisenko used an ultrasound scan and performed eye checks on Whitson to determine the effectiveness of the suit.