Week three. The time is flying by. The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is 80% loaded. This has been a big effort for the crew as well as our specialists on the ground. Tracking a large matrix of storage locations, special requirements and loading locations is a nightmare, but our team on the ground made it look easy. Our crew is becoming more versatile and now flexes between operations and science tasking with what is seemingly just a flick of a switch. I had the opportunity to set up our Microgravity Science Glovebox for the Trans-Alloy experiment. Unfortunately, the team had to abort the science run due to high temperatures in the glovebox. Tomorrow morning, we will remove the science hardware, remove the cooling plugs, and set it all back up again. Reworks like this don’t bother me, and I am happy to do what is needed to reach success. We are on, and sometimes beyond, the frontline of science where lines between science, engineering and operations become very blurry and complex. We have to be flexible! The International Space Station (ISS) has now entered its 20th year of operations. What an engineering marvel. As with any aging program, we have accumulated an expanse of experience operating in space. As an engineering community, we are much smarter about operating in space than we were 30 years ago when we designed ISS. I will be very encouraged to see our community apply lessons learned as we create new systems to require less training, less maintenance and less logistics.
I’ve managed to take a few moments over the last week to take some pictures of Earth. Sunrises are the most beautiful part of the day. Out of total darkness, a thin blue ring begins to form that highlights the Earth’s circumference. At this moment, you can really see how thin our atmosphere is. Within a few minutes, the sun rises on station and highlights the docked vehicles while Earth just below is still in night’s shadow. A few minutes later, ISS is over brightly-lighted ground and water, providing a fresh view of the features below. The promise of a new day is real!
The crew managed to have a movie night last night, which provided some good fun and camaraderie. This was a welcome break from the busy routine we endure. Unfortunately, today, I woke to hear that astronaut and moonwalker John Young had passed away. And I also learned that a good friend from the Navy had passed away after a challenging battle with cancer. When he learned he had cancer two years ago, he decided to ignite the afterburners and live every day like there was no tomorrow…he was just as successful in his final days as he was in his previous 50 years. To two remarkable American heroes, thank you for all you have sacrificed and thank you for a lifetime of inspiration. Fair winds and following seas.
Veteran astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel will embark on the 210th spacewalk Wednesday at the International Space Station to swap out thermal control gear. The experienced spacewalkers have a combined 10 spacewalks between them with Feustel having conducted seven and Arnold with a total of three.
Flight Engineer Scott Tingle assisted the duo today getting spacewalk tools ready and recharging the U.S. spacesuits inside the U.S. Quest airlock. Tingle and Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai will assist the spacewalkers in and out of the airlock Wednesday and guide the duo during their tasks.
Orbital ATK will launch their Cygnus space freighter on Sunday at 5:04 a.m. EDT to resupply the Expedition 55 crew just four days after Feustel and Arnold complete their fourth spacewalk together. After a four-day trip in space, Cygnus will deliver crew supplies, station hardware and experiments exploring a variety of subjects including life science and space physics.
Arnold and Tingle practiced the robotics maneuvers today on a computer they will use to capture Cygnus after its approach and rendezvous with the station on May 24 at 5:20 a.m. NASA TV will broadcast the Cygnus launch and capture activities live at the orbital laboratory.
At 22:00, after initial “safing” and unpacking of Soyuz, we finally retired to our quarters. It was very hard to sleep, and I think the busy days leading us to the International Space Station (ISS) were beginning to take their toll. We were scheduled for a full day of work to include familiarization of safety equipment as well as beginning to prepare several science experiments for action. The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft arrived to ISS a couple days before we did, and its cargo included several experiments that needed to be conducted promptly upon arrival. I was doing a great job of floating from one module to another. Since I was a little behind schedule due to having to learn where everything is, I decided I could speed up my floating to be more expeditious. Well, we know how that usually goes and this time was no exception. I gathered a “bag of knots” (aviator slang for “going really fast”) and began a healthy transition from Node 2 into the Columbus module – where I predictably hit the top of my head. Ouch. The following three days (Tuesday-Saturday) were challenging as we worked to integrate all of our new knowledge and increase our efficiencies. The senior crew was very helpful and understanding. I was very grateful of how they managed our arrival and how they slowly passed down the information we needed to get started. Everything was different from life on Earth. Everything. We quickly figured out that we needed to think differently as we began to adapt to life in space. Drinking water, preparing food, eating food, using the toilet, working, physical training, etc., all different. I had a good handle on the differences and what to expect before I got there. But I didn’t expect that when operations got very busy that my reflexes would respond naturally as they did on Earth. The light bulb came on. I was going to have to move slower and think about everything before I took action. This is why space fliers new to this environment appear to be less efficient than most managers and/or operations planners would like. Adaptation to life in space takes time, and you can’t rush it.
On day three, I finally had the opportunity to look out the Cupola (window facing Earth). My Lord, what a beautiful sight. I could see the sun rising in front of us, darkness below and behind us, and a bright blue ring highlighting the curvature of the Earth as the sun began to rise. Absolutely amazing!
We wrapped up our busy week and celebrated Saturday night by enjoying some rehydrated meats and instant juices! Christmas Eve, we had a few tasks that kept us busy, and the same on Christmas Day. Fortunately, we were able to have video conferences with our families over the holiday, and it was really nice to talk with them. We also had a very short celebration for Christmas after work was done. Our wonderful Behavioral Health Professionals at NASA had sent us Christmas stockings in the SpaceX cargo delivery. I added the small gifts that I brought for the crew – superhero socks! Mark got Hulk socks, Nemo (Norishige Kanai) got Spiderman socks, Joe got Deadpool socks, Anton got Superman socks, and Sasha and I got Batman socks. NOW, we are ready to conquer space!
The International Space Station will be orbiting a little higher this weekend to prepare for the departure of three Expedition 55 crew members and the arrival of a new Russian cargo craft. The docked Russian Progress 69 resupply ship will fire its engines Saturday at 6:07 p.m. EDT for two minutes and 52 seconds slightly boosting the orbital lab’s altitude.
This orbital reboost sets up the proper phasing trajectory for the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft when it undocks June 3. The Soyuz will carry Commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineers Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai back to Earth after six-and-a-half month mission in space. The reboost will also enable a two-orbit launch to docking opportunity for Russia’s next resupply ship the Progress 70 in July.
Overnight and early Friday morning robotics controllers from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency supported the deployment of small satellites from outside the Kibo laboratory module. The Japanese robotic arm attached to Kibo ejected several small satellites to support a series of technology demonstrations.
Two spacewalkers and a pair of Flight Engineers continued more computer training and procedure reviews today ahead of next week’s spacewalk. NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel will go outside in their U.S. spacesuits Wednesday for about 6.5 hours to swap out thermal control gear that cools external station systems. Tingle and Kanai will assist the duo in and out of the Quest airlock and help choreograph the spacewalk tasks.
The launch went as planned. Our Soyuz spacecraft did a great job getting the three of us to the International Space Station (ISS).
A week later, it all seems like a blur. The bus driver played me a video of my family and friends delivering their good luck messages. After exiting the bus at the launch pad, I was fortunate to have the Soyuz chief designer (Roman) and NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations (Bill Gerstenmaier) walk me to the stairs and elevator that would take us to the top of the rocket for boarding. The temperature at the pad was approximately -17 degrees centigrade, and we were wearing the Russian Polar Bear suits over our spacesuits in order to stay warm. Walking in these suits is a little hard, and I was happy to have Roman and Bill helping me. We walked into the fog created by the systems around the rocket, climbed the ladder, and waved goodbye. My last words before launch were to Bill, “Boiler Up!”. Bill is a fellow and very well-known Boilermaker. We strapped in, and the launch and docking were nominal. But I will add that the second stage cutoff and separation, and ignition of the third stage was very exciting. We were under approximately 4 Gs when the engine cutoff, which gave us a good jolt forward during the deceleration and then a good jolt back into the seat after the third stage ignited. I looked at Anton and we both began to giggle like school children.
We spent two days in orbit as our phase angle aligned with ISS. Surprisingly, I did not feel sick. I even got 4 hours of sleep the first night and nearly 6 hours the second night. Having not been able to use my diaper while sitting in the fetal position during launch, it was nice to get out of our seats and use the ACY (Russian toilet). Docking was amazing. I compared it to rendezvousing on a tanker in a fighter jet, except the rendezvous with ISS happened over a much larger distance. As a test pilot, it was very interesting to watch the vehicle capture and maintain the centerline of ISS’s MRM-1 docking port as well as capturing and maintaining the required speed profile. Just like landing at the ship, I could feel the vehicle’s control system (thrusters) making smaller and faster corrections and recorrections. In the flight test world, this is where the “gains” increase rapidly and where any weaknesses in the control system will be exposed. It was amazing to see the huge solar arrays and tons of equipment go by my window during final approach. What an engineering marvel the ISS is. Smooth sailing right into the docking port we went!
About an hour later, after equalizing pressures between the station and Soyuz, we opened the hatch and greeted our friends already onboard. My first view of the inside of the space station looked pretty close to the simulators we have been training in for the last several years. My first words were, “Hey, what are you guys doing at Building 9?”. Then we tackled each other with celebratory hugs!
Two Expedition 55 Flight Engineers are using virtual reality and computer training today to prepare for next week’s spacewalk at the International Space Station. Robotics controllers from Houston and Japan are also maneuvering a pair of robotic arms for the upcoming spacewalk and satellite deployments.
NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel will conduct the 210th spacewalk at the space station beginning Wednesday, May 16 at 8:10 a.m. EDT. The veteran spacewalkers will work for about 6.5 hours swapping thermal control gear that controls the circulation of ammonia to keep external station systems cool. NASA TV begins its live coverage at 6:30 a.m.
The veteran spacewalkers checked the functionality a pair of jet packs that will be attached to their U.S. spacesuits next week. The jet packs, known as Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue (SAFER), provide mobility for spacewalkers in the unlikely event they become untethered from the station. The duo also wore virtual reality goggles to practice maneuvering their SAFER jet packs and reviewed their spacewalk procedures.
Robotics controllers from opposite sides of the world maneuvered a pair of robotic arms independently of each other today. Canada’s 57.7-foot-long robotic arm, nicknamed Canadarm2, was remotely positioned today by engineers in Houston in advance of next week’s spacewalk activities. Controllers from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency remotely operated the Kibo laboratory module’s robotic arm to prepare for the deployment of small satellites Friday morning.
Robotics engineers are setting up the worksite on the Port 6 truss today ahead of next week’s spacewalk. Ground teams are remotely maneuvering the Canadarm2 with the Dextre robotic hand attached to relocate a leaky pump flow control subassembly (PFCS). The Canadarm2 will then be positioned afterward to support Arnold’s and Feustel’s work next week.
The duo will work outside the station for about 6.5 hours to swap locations of 2 PFCS boxes. The PFCS controls the circulation of ammonia to keep station systems cool. Other spacewalk tasks planned in the timeline include swapping out a variety of communications gear.
The two spacewalkers gathered their tools and were joined on Tuesday by Flight Engineers Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai for a spacewalk procedures review. The foursome also checked in with mission controllers to discuss the upcoming spacewalk. Tingle and Kanai will assist the spacewalkers in and out of their spacesuits next week and help choreograph the excursion.
International Space Station officials will preview a pair of upcoming spacewalks live on NASA TV Tuesday. Meanwhile, Orbital ATK is getting its Cygnus resupply ship ready for launch in less than two weeks while the Expedition 55 crew focuses on biomedical studies today.
Two NASA astronauts are going out for a spacewalk May 16 to swap out thermal control gear that circulates ammonia to keep station systems cool. Station experts will be on NASA TV beginning at 2 p.m. EDT Tuesday to preview next week’s spacewalk including a second spacewalk planned for June 14. Both excursions will be conducted by veteran spacewalkers Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel.
Feustel and Arnold verified their spacesuits are sized correctly with assistance from astronauts Scott Tingle of NASA and Norishige Kanai from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Tingle also checked the batteries that power the U.S. spacesuits.
On May 20, just four days after the first spacewalk, Orbital ATK is planning to launch its Cygnus space freighter on a four day trip to the orbital laboratory. Cygnus will resupply the Expedition 55 crew with new science experiments, crew supplies, station hardware and gear that will be installed on the June 14 spacewalk.
Today’s science taking place onboard the station explored how microgravity affects blood pressure and blood vessels. Kanai started his day photographing his face to help scientists understand how the upward flow of fluids impacts intracranial pressure affecting a crew member’s eyes. He later attached sensors to his legs, scanned them with an ultrasound device and checked his blood pressure for the Vascular Echo study.
Following release from the International Space Station by ground controllers at 9:23 a.m. EDT, SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at about 3 p.m. This marks the end of the company’s 14th contracted cargo resupply mission to the space station for NASA.
A boat will take the Dragon to the port at Long Beach, where some cargo will be removed and returned to NASA. Dragon will be prepared for a return journey to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing.
Dragon is returning more than 4,000 pounds of NASA cargo and science samples from a variety of technological and biological studies about the space station. Some of the science returning on this flight includes samples from the Metabolic Tracking study that could lead to more effective, less expensive drugs, the APEX-06 investigation examining how to effectively grow crops in space, and the Fruit Fly Lab–03 investigation to research disease genes and immunity to help prepare for future long-duration human space exploration missions.
Robotic flight controllers released the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 9:23 a.m. EDT, and Expedition 55 Flight Engineer Scott Tingle of NASA is monitoring its departure.
Dragon’s thrusters will be fired to move the spacecraft a safe distance from the station before SpaceX flight controllers in Hawthorne, California, command its deorbit burn about 2:06 p.m. The capsule will splashdown about 3 p.m. in the Pacific Ocean, where recovery forces will retrieve the capsule and its more than 4,000 pounds of cargo, including a variety of technological and biological studies.
The deorbit burn and splashdown will not be broadcast on NASA TV.
NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the non-profit organization that manages research aboard the U.S. National Laboratory portion of the space station, will receive time-sensitive samples and begin working with researchers to process and distribute them within 48 hours of splashdown.
Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft currently capable of returning cargo to Earth, and this was the second trip to the orbiting laboratory for this spacecraft, which completed its first mission nearly two years ago. SpaceX launched its 14th NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission to the station April 2 from Space Launch Complex 40 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a Falcon 9 rocket that also previously launched its 12th NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission to the station.