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.
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!
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.
The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship’s stay at the International Space Station has been extended until Saturday after unfavorable conditions were reported at the splashdown zone in the Pacific Ocean. In the meantime, time-sensitive payloads are still being readied for return to Earth as the crew wraps up final cargo packing.
Robotics controllers will operate the Canadarm2 to detach Dragon from the International Space Station’s Harmony module on Friday. It will be remotely released into Earth orbit Saturday at 9:24 a.m. EDT before finally splashing down in the Pacific Ocean around 3 p.m. Flight Engineer Scott Tingle will be in the Cupola monitoring Dragon as it slowly backs away from the space station.
NASA TV’s live coverage of Dragon’s departure begins Saturday at 9 a.m. The space freighter’s parachuted splashdown 403 miles off the coast of Long Beach, Calif. will not be televised.
Two NASA astronauts are looking ahead to their next spacewalk scheduled for May 16. Veteran spacewalkers Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel took their body measurements today to ensure a proper fit inside their U.S. spacesuits. The duo will work outside the orbital lab for about 6.5 hours to swap out thermal control gear that circulates ammonia to keep station systems cool.
Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai, who will assist the spacewalkers in two weeks, began configuring the Quest airlock where the 210th spacewalk at the station will be staged. He also trained to detect and clean ammonia from the spacesuits should they become contaminated during the maintenance spacewalk.
Dragon’s departure was pushed back from Wednesday after SpaceX personnel observed high sea states in the Pacific Ocean splashdown zone southwest of Long Beach, California. Its remotely controlled release from the Canadarm2 is now scheduled for Saturday at 9:30 a.m. EDT with live NASA TV coverage beginning at 9 a.m. Dragon’s splashdown is targeted at about 3 p.m. but will not be seen on NASA TV.
Mice living on the station have been transferred to specialized habitats in Dragon. They will be studied on Earth to observe how their bones and muscles have changed during their stay in microgravity. Other critical biological samples preserved in science freezers, such as plants, insects and human tissue, have also been transferred into Dragon for retrieval and analysis.
The astronauts and cosmonauts living on the space station exercise every day to maintain strong bones and muscles on orbit. One of the workout machines, the Advanced Resistance Exercise Device (ARED), got a tune up today amid the Dragon close out activities. Flight Engineer Drew Feustel greased the ARED’s rails and rollers and inspected its x-axis rotation points.
The crew on board the International Space Station has been busy this month unloading the bounty of supplies and equipment brought up by the SpaceX Dragon and repacking it with cargo to be returned to Earth. If you’ve ever wondered what goes into a layover at the space station, check out chapter 14 of the new NASA ebook, The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier. The book, which was written by space station flight directors, is now available to download for free at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 14: Vital Visiting Vehicles – Keeping the Remote Outpost Crewed and Operating.
Purpose and Importance of Visiting Vehicles
On Earth, a person’s typical week might consist of a trip to the grocery store, several trips to the local home improvement store, taking out the trash and recyclables, and doing a few loads of laundry. If something is broken in the home, a replacement part is ordered and the homeowner must wait for a delivery. Or, he or she might need to schedule a professional to make the repair. Homeowners probably do not think about the water supply. They definitely do not worry about the supply of oxygen needed to breathe or the removal of carbon dioxide that is expelled from the human body.
The International Space Station (ISS) is a unique, world-class orbiting laboratory. It is also home to astronauts and cosmonauts. The logistics of keeping such a home running are complicated. In space, there are no grocery stores or home improvements stores. The “trash truck” only comes around every few months. Washers and dryers for clothing do not exist, and access to clean attire can take months. Much of the breathable air and drinkable water must be delivered. When supplies (e.g., bathroom tissue) are low, crew members cannot tap a few keys on the computer and wait for resupplies to arrive at the door. They call Mission Control and place their order, and then they wait.
Moving astronauts and cosmonauts, science experiments, food, water, air, spare parts, and other supplies to and from the ISS is a highly choreographed international operation that must be executed with near perfection, every time. Such an effort requires more than one spacecraft. This was never more evident than in an 8-month span between October 2014 and June 2015 when three different resupply missions were lost during or shortly after launch. Three different rockets from three different companies experienced three different failures. According to statistics, this scenario was supposed to be nearly impossible. Yet, it happened. Operations on board the ISS continued despite the lack of resupply.
So, exactly what does it take to keep the ISS resupplied? It starts with a procession of vehicles from around the world that visit the ISS.
The Expedition 55 crew members are packing up the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft today for its return to Earth on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the six International Space Station residents continue operating a multitude of space experiments while ensuring the orbital lab remains in tip-top shape.
NASA astronauts Scott Tingle and Ricky Arnold transferred an array of biological samples from station science freezers to specialized freezers stowed inside Dragon. The research samples are for analysis by scientists and are among a variety of cargo, including station hardware for refurbishment, returning to Earth inside Dragon Wednesday.
NASA TV begins its live coverage of the Dragon departure at 10 a.m. EDT on Wednesday. Robotics controllers on the ground will command the Canadarm2 to release Dragon at 10:22 a.m. Tingle will be in the Cupola monitoring the release and departure activities. Dragon will fire its engines for the final time at 3:06 p.m. beginning its descent back into Earth’s atmosphere before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean around 4 p.m. NASA TV will not cover Dragon’s splashdown about 260 miles southwest of Long Beach, Calif.
Flight Engineer Drew Feustel tended to a variety of experiment hardware today supporting life science and biomedical research. He spent the morning working on the Multi-Use Variable-G Platform that houses tiny organisms such as fruit flies, flatworms, plants, fish and cells. Feustel then configured the Human Research Facility-2 with gear enabling ongoing observations of the physical and mental changes taking place in astronauts living in space.
Robotics controllers and Expedition 55 crew members are getting ready for the departure of the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship next week. The commercial space freighter will leave the International Space Station and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday loaded with cargo for retrieval and analysis.
Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold powered up command and communications gear today that will aid the crew when Dragon departs the station on Wednesday at 10:22 a.m. EDT. NASA TV will begin its live coverage of the departure activities at 10 a.m. Dragon will splashdown in the Pacific Ocean about six hours later to be recovered by SpaceX and NASA personnel. The splashdown off the southern coast of California will not be seen on NASA TV.
The Canadarm2 will be remotely maneuvered today to grapple Dragon today while it is still attached to the Harmony module. In the meantime the 57.7-foot-long robotic arm and its fine-tuned robotic hand, also known as Dextre, are completing the installation of an external materials exposure experiment outside of Japan’s Kibo laboratory module.
Astronauts Drew Feustel and Scott Tingle are still packing Dragon today with a variety of cargo including space station hardware and research samples. The STaARS-1 experiment facility has completed a year of operations at the station and is being readied for its return aboard Dragon next week. The research device supported observations of living systems exposed to simulated gravity such as Earth, the Moon and Mars. Feustel also stowed faulty life support gear in Dragon for refurbishment back on Earth.
The Expedition 55 crew is experimenting with space gardening today while packing research samples and cargo for return to Earth. The space residents are also breaking down gear brought in from last month’s spacewalk and getting ready for the next spacewalk.
Botanical samples are just one example of the multiple types of research and cargo that is sent to Earth packed inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft. Radiation monitors that recorded exposure levels in the station’s crew quarters were collected by Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai today for stowage inside Dragon. Engineers on the ground will examine the radiation data and determine the exposure risk to the crew and develop countermeasures.
NASA astronauts Scott Tingle and Ricky Arnold disassembled an external television camera group (ETVCG) brought in from last month’s spacewalk. Tingle then replaced a failed light bulb in a light to be used on another ETVCG which will be installed on the next spacewalk scheduled for mid-May. Parts from the old ETVCG will be shipped back to Earth in Dragon for refurbishment.
Dragon is due for two more work days of packing before its return to Earth next week. Ground controllers will remotely detach Dragon from the Harmony module before releasing it from the grips of Canadarm2 into space at 10:22 a.m. EDT Wednesday, May 2. Tingle will monitor the robotics activities as NASA TV broadcasts the departure activities live starting at 10 a.m. Splashdown in the Pacific Ocean is planned for 4:02 p.m. and will not be seen on NASA TV.