The outside of the International Space Station is a harsh environment but scientists are taking advantage of the extreme conditions to conduct advanced space research. Astronauts are also researching what happens to a variety of organisms living for months at a time inside a spacecraft as NASA prepares for longer missions farther out into space.
The fifth and final external materials experiment (MISSE) delivered by the latest SpaceX Dragon resupply ship was activated outside the orbital lab today. Robotics engineers operating the Canadarm2 and Dextre extracted and installed the MISSE canisters one by one from Dragon’s trunk to areas on the station. The canisters were then remotely opened exposing a variety of materials to the vacuum of space to help engineers design safer and stronger spacecraft systems.
Back inside the orbital lab, Flight Engineer Scott Tingle of NASA harvested and photographed plants for the APEX-06 study today. The botanical samples collected from the VEGGIE facility were later processed and stowed in a science freezer for return to Earth inside the Dragon cargo craft. They will be analyzed after being quickly shipped to scientists at NASA and the University of Wisconsin.
NASA Flight Engineers Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel once again partnered up and collected their blood and urine samples today for more biomedical experiments. Researchers are analyzing the samples as they continuously study how the human body adapts to extended periods of weightlessness. Results will help doctors provide therapies to maintain the health of astronauts in space and humans on Earth.
Mice are also being observed on the space station so scientists can detect the chemical signals that lead to weakened bones and muscles. Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai drew more blood samples from the rodents today and wrapped up a week-long run of the Mouse Stress Defense experiment. The blood samples will be processed in a centrifuge, stowed in biological science freezer then returned to Earth inside Dragon for analysis on Earth.
The International Space Station is set to raise its orbit Wednesday ahead of upcoming cargo and crew missions. Meanwhile, the six Expedition 55 crew members are staying busy today with medical tests, cargo work and lab maintenance.
The space station will increase its altitude slightly when a docked Russian cargo craft automatically fires its engines for two minutes and six seconds early Wednesday. The maneuver will establish the correct orbit for the landing of three crew members in June and a two-orbit rendezvous capability for the next Russian Progress resupply craft in July.
Flight Engineer Scott Tingle collected and stowed his own urine sample today for a pair of biomedical studies examining the effects of spaceflight on the human body. The U.S. Navy pilot also continued operations for the Metabolic Tracking (MT) experiment that observes how human tissue samples are impacted by a specific drug compound.
Expedition 55-56 crewmates Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold checked each other’s eyes today using optical coherence tomography gear inside the Harmony module. Feustel also installed and checked the station’s first updated printer since 2000 before wrapping up his day unloading cargo from the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft. Arnold finally collected water samples and changed out a cartridge as part of preventative maintenance on a U.S. oxygen generator.
Astronaut Norishige Kanai from Japan continued more upkeep work for the Mouse Stress Defense experiment that is exploring the causes of muscle and bone loss in space. The busy flight engineer later assisted his fellow crew members unloading SpaceX cargo before injecting human tissue samples with a drug compound for the MT study.
Ever wanted a deeper dive into the life of the International Space Station? The flight directors in charge of the teams that oversee its systems have written a 400-page book that offers an inside look at the time and energy the flight control team at the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston devote to the development, planning and integration of a mission.
The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier, is now available to download for free at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH.
Here’s an excerpt from the book to give you a taste of what to expect:
Chapter 10: Preparing for the Unexpected
At 2:49 a.m. Central Standard Time, a red alarm illuminated the giant front wall display in Mission Control in Houston. The alert read: TOXIC ATMOSPHERE Node 2 LTL IFHX NH3 Leak Detected.
The meaning was clear. Ammonia was apparently leaking into the Interface Heat Exchanger (IFHX) of the Low Temperature cooling Loop (LTL) in the Node 2 module.
“Flight, ETHOS, I expect the crew to be pressing in emergency response while I confirm,” said the flight controller from Environmental and Thermal Operating Systems (ETHOS). In other words, the crew needed to don oxygen masks to protect themselves from ammonia while ETHOS looked more closely at these data.
This was not a drill. When the red alarm appeared, the flight director turned her full attention to ETHOS. The words—unwelcome at any time from ETHOS—were especially jarring at an hour when the crew and the ground were humming along on a busy day of running experiments. Of the many failures for which the flight control team prepares, especially in simulations, this failure presents one of the most life-threatening situations, and one the team never wants to encounter on the actual vehicle.
On January 14, 2015, this scenario happened on the International Space Station (ISS). Data on the ETHOS console indicated toxic ammonia could be bleeding in from the external loops, through the waterbased IFHX, and into the cabin (see Chapter 11). Software on the ISS immediately turned off the fans and closed the vents between all modules to prevent the spread of ammonia. At the sound of the alarm, crew members immediately began their memorized response of getting to the Russian Segment (considered a safe haven, since that segment does not have ammonia systems) and closed the hatch that connected to the United States On-orbit Segment (USOS). They took readings with a sensitive sensor to determine the level of ammonia in the cabin. The flight control team—especially the flight director, ETHOS, and the capsule communicator (CAPCOM [a holdover term from the early days of the space program])—waited anxiously for the results while they looked for clues in the data to see how much, if any, ammonia was entering the cabin. Already, the flight director anticipated multiple paths that the crew and ground would take, depending on the information received.
No ammonia was detected in the cabin of the Russian Segment. At the same time, flight control team members looked at multiple indications in their data and did not see the expected confirming cues of a real leak. In fact, it was starting to look as if an unusual computer problem was providing incorrect readings, resulting in a false alarm. After looking carefully at the various indications and starting up an internal thermal loop pump, the team verified that no ammonia had leaked into the space station. The crew was not in danger. After 9 hours, the flight control team allowed the crew back inside the USOS. However, during the “false ammonia event,” as it came to be called, the team’s vigilance, discipline, and confidence came through. No panicking. Only measured responses to quickly exchange information and instructions.
Hearts were pumping rapidly, yet onlookers would have noticed little difference from any other day.
A key to the success of the ISS Program is that it is operated by thoroughly trained, well-prepared, competent flight controllers. The above example is just one of many where the team is unexpectedly thrust into a dangerous situation that can put the crew at risk or jeopardize the success of the mission. Both the flight controllers and the crews, often together, take part in simulations. Intense scenarios are rehearsed over and over again so that when a real failure occurs, the appropriate reaction has become second nature.
After these types of simulations, team members might figure out a better way to do something, and then tuck that additional knowledge into their “back pocket” in the event of a future failure. Perhaps the most famous example of this occurred following a simulation in the Apollo Program. After the instructor team disabled the main spacecraft, the flight controllers began thinking about using the lunar module as a lifeboat. When the Apollo 13 spacecraft was damaged significantly by an exploding oxygen tank, the flight control team already had some rough ideas as to what they might do. Since the scenario was not considered likely owing to all the safety precautions, the team had not developed detailed procedures. However, the ideas were there.
The Expedition 55 crew continued exploring today the numerous ways the human body is affected when living in space long-term. More cargo transfers are also taking place both inside and outside the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship.
NASA Flight Engineer Scott Tingle processed human tissue cultures for the Metabolic Tracking (MT) experiment to help doctors understand how medicine impacts astronauts. His fellow NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold looked at a set of different biological samples for the student-built Genes in Space-5 experiment. That study is researching if DNA alterations and a weakened immune system are connected due to microgravity.
Arnold later joined Flight Engineer Drew Feustel for a routine eye exam with a fundoscope to get a good look at their retinas. The duo also worked to unload more cargo from Dragon which has been attached to the Harmony module since April 4.
Back on the ground at Mission Control in Houston, robotics engineers are working to remotely extract the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) experiment from Dragon’s trunk. They are operating the Canadarm2 to detach ASIM, an Earth observation facility, from Dragon and install it on the Columbus laboratory module. ASIM will study severe thunderstorms and their role in the Earth’s atmosphere and climate.
Today’s research aboard the International Space Station is primarily focusing on how plants react and how medicine works in space. The Expedition 55 crew and robotics controllers are also continuing cargo operations inside and outside the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft.
Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold participated today in the Plant Gravity Perception experiment, one of several ongoing space botany studies. The station crew is helping scientists explore how plants determine which way to grow and perceive light in microgravity. Results may help future astronauts training for longer missions beyond low-Earth orbit learn how to grow crops in space to sustain themselves.
Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai continued research into how the human body in space metabolizes medicine. NASA astronaut Drew Feustel started operations with the Metabolic Tracking (MT) experiment this morning before handing it off to Kanai. MT is looking at a particular type of medicine and how it interacts with human tissue cultures. Results could improve therapies in space and lead to better, cheaper drugs on Earth.
Scott Tingle of NASA partnered with Arnold today unloading more cargo from Dragon. They continue to unpack several thousand pounds of new science experiments, station hardware and crew supplies.
Outside the Dragon in its trunk is the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) experiment that will be robotically removed Friday. Engineers on the ground operating the Canadarm2 will maneuver ASIM, an Earth observation facility, and install it on Europe’s Columbus lab module.
The fully-staffed Expedition 55 crew worked throughout the International Space Station today exploring how microgravity affects a variety of phenomena including biology and physics. The six long-term space residents also practiced a simulated emergency today to maintain their safety skills and awareness.
Flight Engineer Drew Feustel started Tuesday collecting a urine sample and stowing it inside the Human Research Facility’s (HRF) science freezer for later analysis. Shortly afterward, Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai inserted a dosimeter and biological samples in the HRF’s freezer to research the effects of cosmic radiation on mammalian reproduction.
Commander Anton Shkaplerov swapped manifold bottles inside the Combustion Integrated Rack, a device that enables the safe observation of flames and soot on the orbital laboratory. Shkaplerov’s work today is in support of the Advanced Combustion Microgravity Experiment (ACME). ACME is a set of five independent studies researching gaseous flames in space that may enable more fuel efficient and less polluting technologies on Earth.
NASA astronaut Scott Tingle unpacked new medicine for the crew from the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship today. He also packed up and stowed expired or unused medicine back inside Dragon for return and disposal back on Earth.
The entire crew got together in the middle of the day and trained for the unlikely event of an emergency aboard the orbital lab today. The four astronauts and two cosmonauts practiced communication coordination and familiarized themselves with the location of response areas and safety gear.
Meanwhile, robotics flight controllers are remotely swapping Pump Flow Subassemblies on the outside of the station. They are removing a spare launched on Dragon and replacing it with a failed unit on the Port 6 truss. This is the first of a series of maneuvers that will culminate with another swap of components during the next spacewalk in mid-May.
Astronaut Scott Tingle opened Dragon’s hatch this morning and was the first to enter the spaceship. He and fellow NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold began offloading new science gear immediately afterward. Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai tended to new mice shipped aboard Dragon and transferred them to habitats located inside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module.
Some of the new space studies will enable research into a variety of biological organisms to understand microgravity’s long term effects on life systems. Scientists hypothesize their observations will benefit both crews in space and people on Earth. Other experiments will study physics phenomena both inside and outside the orbital lab with potential impacts on future space systems and industrial and manufacturing processes on the ground.
Robotics operators on the ground will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to ungrip the newly-installed Dragon today. They will remotely maneuver the Canadarm2 on Friday to extract unpressurized cargo, including life support gear and external research, from Dragon’s exposed aft-end, also called its trunk. Dragon will remain attached to the Harmony module’s Earth-facing port until early May.
Among the research arriving to the U.S. National Laboratory is a Metabolic Tracking investigation to evaluate the use of a new method to test, in microgravity, the metabolic impacts of pharmaceutical drugs. This could lead to more effective, less expensive medicines on Earth. The Multi-use Variable-g Platform (MVP) will serve as a new test bed aboard the space station, able to host 12 separate experiment modules with samples such as plants, cells, protein crystals and fruit flies. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the U.S. National Laboratory, is sponsoring the investigation and the MVP.
Dragon will remain attached to the space station until May, when it will return to Earth with more than 3,500 pounds of research, hardware and crew supplies.
While the International Space Station was traveling more than 250 miles over the southern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Norishige Kanai and NASA astronaut Scott Tingle captured the Dragon spacecraft at 6:40 a.m. EDT using the space station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm.
Ground controllers will now send commands to begin the robotic installation of the spacecraft on the station’s Harmony module. NASA Television coverage of installation will begin at 8:30 a.m. Watch online at www.nasa.gov/live.
The Dragon lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Monday, April 2 with more than 5,800 pounds of research investigations and equipment, cargo and supplies to support dozens of the more than 250 investigations aboard the space station during Expeditions 55 and 56.
Among the research arriving on Dragon is a new facility to test materials, coatings and components, or other large experiments, in the harsh environment of space. Designed by Alpha Space and sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, the Materials ISS Experiment Flight Facility (MISSE-FF) provides a platform for testing how materials react to exposure to ultraviolet radiation, atomic oxygen, ionizing radiation, ultrahigh vacuum, charged particles, thermal cycles, electromagnetic radiation, and micro-meteoroids in the low-Earth orbit environment.
The Canadian Space Agency’s study Bone Marrow Adipose Reaction: Red or White (MARROW) will look at the effects of microgravity on bone marrow and the blood cells it produces – an effect likened to that of long-term bed rest on Earth. The extent of this effect, and bone marrow’s ability to recover when back on Earth, are of interest to space researchers and healthcare providers alike.
Dragon also is carrying an Earth observatory that will study severe thunderstorms and their role in the Earth’s atmosphere and climate, as well as upgrade equipment for the station’s carbon dioxide removal system, external high-definition camera components, and a new printer for the station’s crew.
The two astronauts have been reviewing procedures and training on a computer for Dragon’s capture for a few weeks now. Kanai will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and grapple Dragon about 7 a.m. EDT Wednesday when it reaches a point about 10 meters away from the station. Tingle is backing up Kanai and will monitor Dragon’s approach and rendezvous from inside the Cupola. Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold will be assisting the duo by overseeing approach telemetry from a communications unit on the space station. NASA TV will begin its live mission coverage starting at 5:30 a.m.
Dragon is carrying a variety of cargo including new science experiments researching the human body, plants and how materials react when exposed to space. The Marrow study will explore bone marrow and the blood cells it produces. PONDS will explore ways to achieve uniform plant growth as astronauts supplement their diets with fresh space-grown greens. The Materials ISS Experiment Flight Facility, or MISSE-FF, will observe what happens to materials exposed to outer space phenomena such as ultraviolet radiation, charged particles and micro-meteoroids.
Meanwhile, the six space station residents are keeping the orbital lab in tip-top shape today while continuing ongoing scientific studies. Commander Anton Shkaplerov stayed focused on maintenance duties in the station’s Russian segment. New Expedition 55 crew members Ricky Arnold, Drew Feustel and Oleg Artemyev had time set aside to get used to their new home in space.
Tingle swapped out Combustion Integrated Rack hardware in the Destiny lab module. Kanai readied mouse habitat gear for a rodent study being delivered on Dragon. Kanai and Tingle later ended the day with more Dragon robotics practice.