Three Expedition 55 crew members are returning to Earth Sunday, but first the Commander will hand over control of the International Space Station in a ceremony Friday afternoon. In the meantime, the crew managed to continue ongoing space research and station maintenance.
Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, who has been leading the station crew since February, will turn over command of the orbital laboratory to NASA astronaut Drew Feustel during the traditional Change of Command Ceremony at 2:25 p.m. EDT Friday live on NASA TV.
Next, the International Space Station Program turns its attention to the undocking Sunday at 5:16 a.m. of Shkaplerov with crewmates Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai inside the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft. The trio will parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan at 8:40 a.m. (6:40 p.m. Kazakh time) after 168 days in space. NASA TV begins it live coverage starting at 1:30 a.m. when the crew says farewell and closes the hatches to their Soyuz vehicle.
Feustel worked throughout Thursday installing improved communications gear inside Europe’s Columbus lab module. Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold strapped himself into an exercise bike to research how exercising in microgravity affects the human body.
Wow, time has gone by extremely fast. The mid-deployment phase will be short-lived for me this time, as the new crew (Drew Feustel, Ricky Arnold, and Oleg Artemyev) will arrive on March 23rd, and then we have at least one spacewalk on the 29th, followed by a planned SpaceX Dragon cargo craft arrival on the 4th of April. It’s a little strange being up here with only two other crewmates. We are still very busy, but the overall work effort is half of what it was just a week ago. My crewmate, Nemo (Norishige Kanai), and I are trying to use the time to prepare for the upcoming very busy schedule, and we have been having some great success getting a ton of details taken care of.
I can’t believe that Expedition 55 is already over. Today is Sunday, and we will depart the International Space Station (ISS) next Sunday morning. 168 days in space. There have been many challenging moments, but even more positive highlights of our time on ISS. The new crew from the Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft (Oleg Artymyev, Drew Feustel, and Ricky Arnold) joined Norishige Kanai (Nemo), Anton Shkaplerov, and I last March. Since then, we have completed two spacewalks, captured and released the SpaceX Dragon-14 cargo craft, captured the Cygnus OA-9 cargo craft, and completed a myriad of maintenance and science activities. The team on the ground controlling, monitoring, supporting, and planning has been amazing. It is always great to work with them, and especially during the moments where the equipment, tools, procedures or crew need help. It is incredible to see how much a good team can accomplish when methodically placing one foot in front of the other. I have been lucky in that the first crew (Mark Vande Hei, Joe Acaba and Alexander Misurkin (Sasha)) and the second crew (Drew, Ricky and Oleg) were all amazing to work with. I do believe the planets aligned for my mission onboard ISS. Drew and Ricky have been friends forever, and listening to them nip at each other provided a ton of great humor for the ground and for us. Their one-liners to each other reminded me of several scenes from the movie Space Cowboys. This a great example that happened as I was writing this log entry:
Ricky: Hey Maker, is this your smoothie?
Ricky: It must Drew’s.
Drew: Hey Ricky, don’t drink my smoothie.
Ricky: What smoothie? This one has my name on it (as he writes his name on it).
Drew: Okay, Grandpa Underpants, hands off my smoothie.
Ricky: Okay, Feustelnaut – we have rules around here, so this is my smoothie now!
All: Much laughing.
To quote my kids: “LOL!”
One the hardest things to do in space is to maintain positive control of individual items such as tools, spare parts, fasteners, etc. We try very hard not to lose things, but even with all of the attention and positive control, items can still float away and disappear. We generally hold items in a crew transfer bag (CTB). Inside the CTB are many items for the system that it supports. When the CTB is opened, the items are free floating inside the bag and tend to escape. It is very difficult to maintain control of the items – especially if they are small, do not have Velcro, or when the daily schedule is so tight that we are rushing to stay on time. We always try to close the CTB’s and Ziploc bags after removing or replacing each item to maintain positive control, but this takes much more time to do for individual items, and if the timeline is tight, we absorb more risk by rushing. The same applies for tools, which we usually keep in a Ziploc bag while working on individual systems and tasks. Last month, I was installing a new low temperature cooling loop pump that had failed a month or two earlier. I gathered the needed tools into my modified (with Velcro) Ziploc bag as I always do and floated over to the work area. When I got there, one of the tools that I had gathered was missing. I looked for 30 minutes, and could not find it. Lost items are very hard to find because the items that escape are usually barely moving and blend in with the environment very quickly. A lost item could be right in front of us and we would never see it. Our crew, after learning these lessons, decided that when anyone loses something, we would tell the other crew members what we had lost with a general location. This has had a huge impact on finding items. If a different crew member can help within the first minutes of losing an item, the new crew member has an excellent chance of finding the item. We have proven this technique several times during the expedition – and Nemo was the very best at quickly finding lost items. But, in my case, we still could not find the missing tool. Our amazing ground team understood and vectored me to a replacement tool and I finished the job. I spent the next 3 weeks watching, looking, and never forgetting about the lost tool. Then, one day last week, Oleg came to the lab and handed us a tool he had found in his Soyuz spacecraft, way on the aft side of the ISS. Amazing. We finally found the tool and I was happy again. This was a lucky ending. ISS has many corners, crevices and hard-to-see areas where missing items could hide and never be found.
We captured a Cygnus cargo craft last Thursday. I was very impressed with the entire team. Our specialists and training professionals in Mission Control did a great job preparing the necessary procedures and making sure we were proficient and ready to conduct operations. The robotic arm is a wonderful system that we could not operate ISS without. Being in space, however, it has some very unique handling qualities. If you think about a spring-mass-damper system just as you did during physics or control theory class, and then remove the damper, you will see a system that is very subject to slow rate oscillations. In test pilot terms, damping ratio is very low and the latency is well over a half of a second. Also in test pilot terms – this is a pilot-induced oscillations (PIO) generator. These characteristics require crew to “fly” the robotic arm using open-loop techniques, which requires a huge amount of patience. Test pilots are sometimes not very patient, but understanding the system and practicing with the incredible simulators that our ground team built and maintain help keep our proficiency as high as possible. The capture went flawlessly, and I was very impressed with the professionalism across the board – crew, flight controllers, and training professionals – what a great job!
Drew, Ricky and I got to play guitar a few times while on ISS. This was fun! Drew connected pickups to the acoustic guitars and then connected the pickups to our tablets for amplification. I’ve never heard an acoustic guitar sound like an electric guitar amped up for heavy metal before. We had a great jam on the song “Gloria”, and a couple others. Rock on!
Last night we had our last movie night. The entire crew gathered in Node 2 and watched Avengers Infinity Wars on the big screen. We enjoy each other’s company, as we did during Expedition 54, and this was a welcome break from the daily grind of trying to complete the required stowage, maintenance and science activities while preparing for departure.
Our last full weekend here on ISS. I gave myself a haircut. We usually clean our spaces each weekend to make sure we can maintain a decent level of organization, efficiency and morale. This weekend is no different, and it is time for me to vacuum out all of our filters and vents. You’d be amazed at what we find!
The top 5 things I will miss when I am no longer in space:
The incredible team that supports ISS operations from our control centers
The camaraderie onboard ISS
The breathtaking view of the Earth, Moon, Sun and Stars
Floating/flying from location to location with very little effort
International Space Station Commander Anton Shkaplerov will lead fellow Expedition 54-55 crewmates Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai back to Earth early Sunday morning. The trio will undock from the Rassvet module inside the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft on Sunday at 5:16 a.m. Just three and a half hours later the homebound crew will parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan after 168 days in space. NASA TV will broadcast live the undocking and landing activities.
Three more crew members are waiting in Kazakhstan to replace the Expedition 54-55 crew. Soyuz MS-09 Commander Sergey Prokopyev will launch with Expedition 56-57 Flight Engineers Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst on June 6 from Kazakhstan on a two-day ride to their new home in space.
The following week after the crew swap activities, NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel will go out on their third spacewalk together this year. The duo will install new high definition cameras and route cables on the Harmony module during the 6.5-hour spacewalk planned for June 14. Tingle is readying some of the gear today that will be installed during that spacewalk.
Finally, Feustel and Arnold spent a little over half their day today setting up the new Cold Atom Lab (CAL). The duo installed the scientific gear in the Destiny lab module, connected cables and inspected fiber optics before powering up the low temperature research device. The CAL will chill atoms to temperatures barely above absolute zero allowing scientists to observe quantum behaviors not possible on Earth.
The Expedition 55 crew is unloading the Orbital ATK Cygnus space freighter today ahead of next week’s crew swap at the International Space Station. On top of the cargo transfers and crew departure activities, the orbital residents are also running space experiments to benefit humans on Earth and astronauts in space.
NASA Flight Engineer Scott Tingle has been working inside Cygnus today unpacking station hardware and research gear delivered just last week. He removed science kits and spacewalking gear and stowed them throughout the orbital lab.
Tingle finally wrapped up his workday with his homebound crewmates Commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineer Norishige Kanai preparing for their June 3 return to Earth. The trio packed personal items and other gear inside the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft that will parachute the crew to a landing in Kazakhstan after 168 days in space.
Back on Earth, Soyuz MS-09 Commander Sergey Prokopyev and Flight Engineers Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst are in final training in Kazakhstan ahead of their June 6 launch to the space station. The Expedition 56-57 trio will orbit Earth for two days before docking to the Rassvet module to begin a six-month stay in space.
NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel, who are staying in space until Oct. 4, familiarized themselves today with the new Cold Atom Lab’s hardware and installation procedures. The device, delivered last week on Cygnus, will research what happens to atoms exposed to temperatures less than a billionth of a degree above absolute zero.
The two later split up as Arnold set up thermal hardware that will help scientists understand the processes involved in semiconductor crystal growth. Feustel moved on and began uninstalling a plant biology facility, the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS), which has finalized its research operations. The EMCS will now be readied for return to Earth aboard the next SpaceX Dragon cargo craft.
The Cygnus resupply ship from Orbital ATK is now open for business and the Expedition 55 crew has begun unloading the 7,400 pounds of cargo it delivered Thursday morning. The orbital residents are also conducting space research and preparing for a crew swap in early June.
There are now four spaceships parked at the International Space Station, the newest one having arrived to resupply the crew early Thursday morning. Astronauts Drew Feustel and Norishige Kanai opened Cygnus’ hatches shortly after it was installed to the Unity module. The cargo carrier will remain attached to the station until July so the astronauts can offload new supplies and repack Cygnus with trash.
NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, who caught Cygnus with the Canadarm2 robotic arm, swapped out gear inside a small life science research facility today called TangoLab-1. Tingle also joined Kanai later in the day transferring frozen biological samples from the Destiny lab module to the Kibo lab module.
The duo also joined Commander Anton Shkaplerov and continued to pack gear and check spacesuits ahead of their return to Earth on June 3 inside the Soyuz MS-07 spaceship. When the three crewmates land in Kazakhstan, about three and a half hours after undocking, the trio will have spent 168 days in space and conducted one spacewalk each.
Three new Expedition 56-57 crew members, waiting to replace the homebound station crew, are counting down to a June 6 launch to space. Astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst will take a two-day ride to the space station with cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev inside the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft for a six-month mission aboard 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!
Three new Expedition 55 crew members were welcomed aboard the International Space Station today. The hatches between the two spacecraft opened at 5:48 p.m. EDT, marking the arrival of Expedition 55 Flight Engineers Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold of NASA and cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos.
The trio joined Scott Tingle of NASA, Commander Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency aboard the orbiting laboratory.
Momentarily, crew will speak to their family and friends from Baiknour in a welcoming ceremony that will air live on NASA TV and the agency’s website.
Three new Expedition 55 crew members are set to begin their mission aboard the International Space Station when they dock to the Poisk module Friday at 3:41 p.m. EDT. Flight Engineers Ricky Arnold, Drew Feustel and Soyuz Commander Oleg Artemyev are midway through their flight inside the Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft that launched Wednesday at 1:44 p.m. from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Expedition 55 Commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineers Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai will greet their new crewmates when the hatches to the new Soyuz spacecraft open Friday around 5:45 p.m. The current station crew has been living onboard the orbital complex since Dec. 19.
NASA TV will cover the rendezvous and docking activities live beginning Friday at 3 p.m. The hatch opening and welcome ceremony broadcast will start at 5 p.m.
As they wait for their new crewmates, Tingle and Kanai are getting a pair of U.S. spacesuits ready for next Thursday’s spacewalk to install new communications gear. Commander Shkaplerov is loading a Russian resupply ship with trash and obsolete gear ahead of its undocking on Wednesday.