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.

Ultra-Cold Science, CubeSats and Spaceship Departures Coming Up

Astronauts Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano
Astronauts Andrew Morgan (left) and Luca Parmitano are pictured shortly after they began their mission aboard the International Space Station in July of 2019.

Ultra-cold science and nanosatellites kept the Expedition 61 crew busy on Tuesday while the International Space Station is getting ready for the departure of a cargo craft and crew ship.

The Cold Atom Lab (CAL) enables research into the quantum effects of gases chilled to nearly absolute zero, which is colder than the average temperature of the universe. NASA Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Christina Koch opened up the CAL today to swap and clean hardware inside the quantum research device.

Meir first joined NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan in the Kibo laboratory module to help him set up the Cyclops small satellite deployer. Morgan installed Cyclops, loaded with a Department of Defense experimental satellite, inside Kibo’s airlock for depressurization.

Mission controllers will then remotely command the Japanese robotic arm to grapple and deploy Cyclops outside Kibo overnight. The tiny satellite, packed with a variety of space weather and star tracker experiments, will be deployed into Earth orbit Wednesday morning.

Meir then installed a different small satellite deployer, this one called SlingShot, on the Cygnus space freighter attached to the Unity module. The SlingShot, attached to Cygnus’ hatch, will release a variety of small satellites after the U.S. cargo craft departs the space station on Friday at 9:35 a.m. EST. The suite of eight CubeSats will study different optical and communication technologies as well as atmospheric and natural phenomena.

Koch is getting ready to come home on Feb. 6 with fellow crewmates Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) and Alexander Skvortsov of Roscosmos. The trio performed leak checks today on the Sokol launch and entry suits they will wear aboard the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship when they parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan.

Upon landing, Koch will have lived in space continuously for 328 days on her first mission. She 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.

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.

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.

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.

Station Preps for New U.S. Crew Ship in Middle of Space Research

NASA astronauts pose with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft behind them
NASA astronauts (from left) Nicole Mann, Michael Fincke, Suni Williams, Josh Cassada, and Eric Boe pose for a picture with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft behind them.

Boeing’s new CST-100 Starliner crew ship rolled out to its launch pad in Florida today. The Expedition 61 crew is preparing the International Space Station for Starliner’s arrival while continuing advanced space research.

The Starliner spacecraft sits atop an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance counting down to a liftoff Friday at 6:36 a.m. EST. This will be Boeing’s first Orbital Flight Test of the uncrewed vehicle that will dock to the station Saturday at 8:27 a.m.

NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch are getting ready for duty Saturday morning when they will monitor Starliner’s automated rendezvous and docking with the orbiting lab. The duo will then conduct leak checks, open the hatch and ingress the vehicle to begin a week of docked operations. Starliner is also delivering about 600 pounds of cargo to the crew and will return science samples to Earth after its departure on Dec. 28.

Meanwhile, microgravity science is always ongoing aboard the station to improve life for humans on Earth and in space. Today, NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan studied how weightlessness affects an optical material that can control the reflection and absorption of light. Results could improve solar power technology and electronic mobile displays.

Meir had her eyes scanned with an ultrasound device by ESA (European Space Agency) Commander Luca Parmitano for a look at her cornea, lens and optic nerve. She had a second eye exam using optical coherence tomography for a view of her retina.

The flight engineers in the Russian side of the space station checked on a pair of docked spaceships while working science and maintenance. Cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka charged electronics gear in the Soyuz MS-15 crew ship. He also worked on plumbing systems in the Progress 74 cargo craft. Cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov set up hardware for an Earth imaging study that explores the effects of natural and manmade catastrophes.

Station Crew Readies for Japan, U.S. Cargo Missions

The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket
The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket that will launch the Cygnus cargo craft to the space station is seen at its Virginia launch pad.

A Japanese cargo craft is preparing to end its mission at the International Space Station, as a U.S. resupply ship stands ready to launch to the orbiting lab. The Expedition 61 crew is gearing up for the space traffic while also staying fresh on station emergency procedures.

Japan’s HTV-8 cargo craft, also called Kounotori, will complete its 34-day mission attached to the station’s Harmony module on Friday. NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir are sharpening their Canadarm2 robotic arm skills today as they train to release the Kounotori packed with trash and obsolete gear  at 1:20 p.m. EDT. It will fall to Earth over the Pacific Ocean and burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere on Saturday.

The 12th U.S.-made Cygnus resupply ship sits atop an Antares rocket and will blast off Saturday from Virginia at 9:59 a.m. EDT. The space delivery vehicle from Northrop Grumman will arrive Monday, when Meir with Koch as her backup will capture it at 4:10 a.m. EST with the Canadarm2. Robotic controllers on the ground will take over and remotely guide Cygnus and attach it to the Unity module where it will stay for 70 days.

NASA TV will cover all the mission activities live.

Three station crewmates brushed up on their emergency response skills today in the unlikely event they would need to evacuate the station in their Soyuz crew ship. Koch with Commander Luca Parmitano and Flight Engineer Alexander Skvortsov practiced quickly entering their Soyuz and simulated emergency undocking and descent procedures.

Multinational Trio Undocks from Station, Heads Home to Earth

The Soyuz MS-12 crew ship with three crewmembers inside
The Soyuz MS-12 crew ship with three multinational crewmembers inside is pictured before undocking from the station’s Rassvet module. Credit: NASA TV

The Soyuz spacecraft carrying three people back to Earth from space undocked as scheduled from the International Space Station at 3:37 a.m. EDT.

NASA astronaut and Expedition 60 Flight Engineer Nick Hague, Expedition 60 and Soyuz commander Alexey Ovchinin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and visiting astronaut Hazzaa Ali Almansoori of the United Arab Emirates are expected to land in their Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan on the Kazakhstan steppe about 7 a.m.

At the time of undocking, Expedition 61 began aboard the space station under the command of ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Luca Parmitano. The crew consisting of NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan as well as cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos will continue work aboard the orbiting laboratory on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.

NASA will resume coverage of Hague, Ovchinin and Almansoori’s landing back on Earth on TV and online at 5:30 a.m., with the deorbit burn scheduled at 6:06 a.m.

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.