Crew Tests How Cells, Bones and Muscles Respond to Lack of Gravity

Crew Members Tim Kopra and Alexey Ovchinin
Expedition 47 crew members Tim Peake and Alexey Ovchinin are the 221st and 222nd individuals to visit the International Space Station.

The Expedition 47 crew is researching how plants sense gravity today and exploring how fluids shift in an astronaut’s body. The orbital residents are also learning how living in space affects the structure of bones and muscles.

The crew set up botany gear and collected samples for the Plant Gravity Sensing-3 experiment. The study seeks to determine if plants sense gravity and if the concentration of calcium in their cells change.

Fluids in an astronaut’s cells and blood vessels respond to the lack of gravity and can impact brain pressure and potentially affect vision. Scientists on the ground are researching this phenomenon by analyzing blood, saliva and urine samples collected from astronauts while on orbit.

Lack of gravity also weakens bones and muscles, and scientists are testing an antibody that has been effective on Earth to prevent that weakening. Doctors are observing those muscular and skeletal changes in mice to learn how to prevent muscle and bone atrophy in astronauts.

BEAM Successfully Installed to the International Space Station

Following extraction from Dragon, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was installed to the International Space Station at 5:36 a.m. EDT. At the time of installation, the space station was flying over the Southern Pacific Ocean. It will remain attached to station for two-year test period.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, is attached to the International Space Station early on April 16, 2016.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, is attached to the International Space Station early on April 16, 2016.

NASA is investigating concepts for habitats that can keep astronauts healthy during space exploration. Expandable habitats are one such concept under consideration – they require less payload volume on the rocket than traditional rigid structures, and expand after being deployed in space to provide additional room for astronauts to live and work inside. BEAM will be the first test of such a module attached to the space station. It will allow investigators to gauge how well it performs overall, and how it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space.

In late May, BEAM will be filled with air and expanded to its full size. Astronauts will enter BEAM on an occasional basis to conduct tests to validate the module’s overall performance and the capability of expandable habitats. After the testing period is completed, BEAM will be released from the space station to eventually burn up harmlessly in the Earth’s atmosphere.


Dragon Will Deliver Rodents for Muscle Study

SpaceX Dragon
The SpaceX Dragon, on its CRS-5 mission, was captured January 12, 2015, during Expedition 42.

The SpaceX Dragon CRS-8 mission will deliver 6,900 pounds/3,130 kilograms of science, crew supplies and hardware to the International Space Station. Payloads aboard Dragon will include rodents for a medical study and an expandable module that will be installed after Dragon completes its two-day trip to the station.

Dragon is scheduled for launch Friday at 4:43 p.m. EDT/8:43 p.m. UTC. It is scheduled to be captured with the Canadarm2 robotic arm Sunday at 7 a.m. and will be installed to the Harmony module about two-and-a-half hours later.

The Expedition 47 crew is getting the Rodent Research hardware ready in the orbital lab so scientists can learn how to offset bone and muscle diseases on Earth. Researchers will be exploring how living in space affects bones and muscles by observing mice soon after Dragon arrives.

The largest payload in Dragon is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). The BEAM will be attached to the Tranquility module a week after its arrival for a series of habitability tests over two years.

Astronaut Tim Peake continued more muscle research today using specialized exercise gear and attached electrodes to his right leg and ankle. Commander Tim Kopra is collected hardware for a combustion experiment that is studying more efficient ways to burn fuel on Earth and in space. Flight Engineer Jeff Williams is training for the new Meteor imaging experiment delivered aboard the Orbital ATK resupply ship.

Soyuz Stands Ready at Launch Pad as Cargo Missions Line Up

Soyuz TMA-20M Rocket at the Launch Pad
The Soyuz TMA-20M rocket stands ready for lifoff at its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz rocket that will carry three new crew members to the International Space Station Friday evening stands ready for launch in Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, the orbiting trio awaiting reinforcements is busy with medical science and preparations for upcoming cargo missions.

High winds at the Baikonur Cosmodrome delayed the raising of the Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft into vertical position a few hours after its roll out Wednesday. Launch is scheduled for 5:26 p.m. EDT/9:26 p.m. UTC Friday. Expedition 47-48 crew members Jeff Williams, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka will arrive at their new home in space less than six hours later.

The three current residents onboard the orbital laboratory, Commander Tim Kopra and Flight Engineers Tim Peake and Yuri Malenchenko, continued their medical research to help scientists understand how living off the Earth affects the human body. The crew is also getting ready for a pair of cargo deliveries due soon from Orbital ATK and SpaceX.

Kopra and Peake were back at work today on the Ocular Health study scanning their eyes with an ultrasound and checking their blood pressure. Kopra also explored how microbes affect the human immune system in space and practiced the robotic capture of the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft. Peake is helping engineers validate the technology that will control rovers on another planet from a spacecraft. Malenchenko researched how the digestive system adapts to microgravity and packed trash into the 61P resupply ship due to undock at the end of the month.

Orbital ATK will launch its Cygnus space freighter Tuesday at 11 p.m. EDT from Kennedy Space Center on a four-day trip to the space station. Cygnus will deliver almost 7,500 pounds of research gear, spacewalk hardware and crew supplies to the Expedition 47 crew.

Space Research on Station Advancing Society

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was photographed by an Expedition 47 crew member.

Much of the research taking place onboard the International Space Station helps doctors improve health for citizens on Earth and astronauts living in space. Other station experiments help engineers design smarter materials and better technologies to advance business and space industries.

At the beginning of the day, British astronaut Tim Peake joined Commander Tim Kopra for blood pressure checks. The duo also checked the fluid pressure in each other’s eyes using a tonometer with support from doctor’s on the ground. The medical checks are part of the ongoing Ocular Health study that seeks to understand vision problems some astronauts have reported after their long-term missions.

Kopra then started researching liquid crystals and their potential for better display screens on spacecraft systems. Afterward, he collected and stored samples for a study that explores how microbes influence the human immune system in space.

Peake spent the rest of the afternoon inspecting the COLBERT treadmill located in the Tranquility module. Veteran cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko studied radiation exposure before cleaning fans and air ducts inside a pair of Russian modules.

Crew Studies Living in Space Before New Trio Launches

Commander Tim Kopra
Commander Tim Kopra works inside the Zvezda service module.

The three residents onboard the International Space Station are busy today researching space science to benefit life on Earth and future crews. The trio is also ramping up to welcome a new set of Expedition 47-48 crew members when they arrive at the end of the week.

Scientists are researching how astronauts perform complex and detailed tasks before, during and after their long-term space missions. Commander Tim Kopra contributed to that study today, known as the Fine Motor Skills experiment, by conducting a series of interactive tasks on a touchscreen tablet. Kopra is also getting ready for another experiment that observes the impact of microbes on a crew member’s immune system.

British astronaut Tim Peake started the day conducting the final experiment run for the Magvector electromagnetic study. He then moved on to Japan’s Kibo lab and replaced Payload Data Handling hardware required to run future life science experiments.

In the Russian side of the orbital lab, cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko is preparing for the arrival of three new crew members. NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin will launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft Friday at 5:26 p.m. EDT/9:26 p.m. UTC and dock less than six hours later to the Pirs docking compartment.

Crew Practices Emergency Escape before Afternoon Research

Starry Night Pass
An Expedition 47 crew member photographed the Earth’s limb during a starry night pass. One of the International Space Station’s solar arrays is seen in the right foreground.

This morning the three Expedition 47 crew members practiced evacuating the International Space Station in the event of an emergency. Afterward, it was back to work on advanced space science and orbital lab maintenance.

Several times a year the station residents get together to practice the communication and procedures necessary to escape an emergency situation. The crew practiced departing the space station quickly today and entering their docked Soyuz spacecraft for use as a lifeboat.

Before the emergency drill, Commander Tim Kopra of NASA and Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) participated in a series of tests on a touchscreen tablet for the Fine Motor Skills study. The experiment is helping researchers understand how astronauts concentrate and work on detailed tasks and sensitive equipment during and after a long-term space mission.

After the drill, the trio split up as Kopra studied liquid crystals to help engineers design better display screens for use on Earth and in space. Peake moved on to the Magvector experiment and studied magnetic fields and electrical conductivity, possibly setting up the space station for future astrophysics research. Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko investigated the forces the station experiences during orbital reboosts, spacecraft dockings and spacewalks among other activities.


Astronauts Studying Immune System to Keep Crews Healthy

The Red Sea and the Nile River
The Red Sea and the Nile River at right were photographed from the International Space Station.

The Expedition 46 crew members participated in immunology research today helping scientists learn to keep astronauts healthy on longer and farther space missions. The crew also continued more vision checks and explored heart health.

Commander Scott Kelly, British astronaut Time Peake and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko each participated in a different experiment looking at the immune system of space residents.

Kelly collected body samples looking for microbes that could potentially cause infections or allergies and stowed them in a science freezer for analysis. Peake took a saliva sample for an experiment that is researching biomarkers for immune dysfunction in space. Kornienko explored how radiation and other unique factors of living in space could affect a crew member’s immune system.

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra also joined Kelly and Kornienko for eye exams for an experiment studying vision impairment reported by some International Space Station astronauts. Kopra and Peake also partnered up for ultrasound scans of their arteries with guidance from doctors on the ground. The ongoing Cardio Ox study looks at an astronaut’s carotid and brachial arteries before, during and after a space mission.

ISS R&D Conference 2015 – July 7

ISS R&D 2015

The 2015 International Space Station R&D Conference officially kicked off in Boston today with researchers gathering to learn about the incredible breadth of research and technology development on humankind’s most innovative learning platform.

The day began with opening remarks from Mike Suffredini, NASA’s ISS Program Manager, followed immediately by his conversation with keynote speaker, Elon Musk, the CEO and Lead Designer of commercial space company SpaceX.

Panels for the day began with a talk on the role of the ISS as a “first step” away from our home planet on the path of human exploration that featured William Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. Additional panels on Tuesday covered the benefits of microgravity for protein crystal growth in order to grow larger, more well-ordered crystals for pharmaceutical research, the capital investments and grants fueling the growth of “New Space” businesses and more.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced the winners of the Galactic Grant Competition, a collaboration between the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. It has been established to provide access to a unique zero-gravity environment, that’s only available on the International Space Station lab, to Massachusetts based life sciences companies.

Awards were also presented to three investigations that were recognized for significant scientific results:

  • Joel Plawsky, Sc.D., and Peter C. Wayner Jr., Ph.D., both of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, in recognition of work on the physics of evaporation and condensation in microgravity.
  • Robert J. Ferl, Ph.D., and Anna-Lisa Paul, Ph.D., both of the University of Florida in Gainesville, for their work using a plant as a real-time biosensor to determine the quality of the surrounding environment.
  • Daniela Grimm of Aarhus, Denmark, in recognition of her findings while growing thyroid cancer cells in orbit to determine new courses of treatment.

The conference is bringing together leaders from industry, academia, and government for three days of detailed presentations and discussions about innovations and breakthroughs in microgravity research, life sciences, materials development technology development, human health and remote sensing.

For more information on the annual ISS R&D Conference, visit the conference website:, or watch a livestream of the conference at

Evacuation Drills, Science Work and New Crew Launch Preps

Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti
ISS042E136074 (01/15/2015) — US astronaut Terry Virts and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti are ready to select a fruit snack during a brief break from work aboard the International Space Station on Jan. 15, 2015. The apples, suspended in microgravity are easy targets. Both astronauts are flight engineers with Expedition 42.

Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts and Flight Engineers Samantha Cristoforetti and Anton Shkaplerov practiced emergency procedures Tuesday, preparing the three crew members for the actions they would take in the unlikely event that they must evacuate the International Space Station.

Cristoforetti went back to work on the Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES). She will be setting up MARES hardware inside the European Columbus lab module over the next two days. Virts assisted her with the MARES deployment just before lunchtime.

› Read more about the MARES

Virts later moved to the U.S. Destiny lab module to pack up a physics experiment in the Microgravity Science Glovebox. The commander stowed the Coarsening in Solid Mixtures-4 (CSLM-4) experiment, an investigation studying solid-liquid mixtures, which will be returned on a future SpaceX Dragon mission.

› Read more about Coarsening in Solid Mixtures-4

Meanwhile, Soyuz TMA-16M Commander Gennady Padalka and One-Year crew members Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko are preparing for launch on March 27, when they will join Expedition 43 at the orbital laboratory. Kelly and Kornienko will stay in space until March 2016. Padalka will return to Earth Sept. 11.