Crew in Final Spacewalk Preps, Studies Plants and Worms
The Expedition 64 crew is in final preparations for Sunday’s spacewalk to ready the International Space Station for new solar arrays. The orbital residents are also tending to plants and observing worms to continue learning how space affects biology.
NASA Flight Engineers Kate Rubins and Victor Glover will set their U.S. spacesuits to battery power on Sunday at around 6 a.m. EST signifying the start of the year’s third spacewalk. The duo will exit the station and spend about six-and-a-half hours upgrading power channels that will support new solar arrays to be delivered on upcoming SpaceX Dragon cargo missions. NASA TV begins its live spacewalk coverage at 4:30 a.m.
Rubins and Glover organized their spacewalk tools, checked their spacesuit tethers, and readied the U.S. Quest airlock today. On Saturday, they will finalize their preparations with assistance from Flight Engineers Michael Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi and hold a conference with spacewalk experts in Mission Control.
The crew’s two cosmonauts focused their activities in the Russian segment of the orbital lab today. Commander Sergey Ryzhikov worked on batteries and cameras. Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov had a fitness test on the Zvezda service module’s treadmill then serviced a variety of Russian science gear.
Crew Examines Worms, Explores Space Manufacturing During Spacewalk Preps
Two NASA astronauts are getting their tools and spacesuits ready for Sunday’s spacewalk to ready the International Space Station for new solar arrays. Meanwhile, the rest of the Expedition 64 crew focused on a variety of space research on Thursday.
NASA Flight Engineers Kate Rubins and Victor Glover are finalizing their preparations for a planned six-and-a-half hour spacewalk set to begin Sunday at 6 a.m. EST. NASA TV will begin its live spacewalk beginning at 4:30 a.m.
Rubins and Glover configured spacewalk tools and checked U.S. spacesuits today before calling down to experts in Mission Control to report on their readiness. The duo today also continued reviewing the spacewalk procedures they will use to upgrade power channels that will soon support new solar arrays. Those solar arrays will be shipped on upcoming Space Dragon cargo missions for installation this year.
Science is always ongoing aboard the space station, not just with crew inputs but also remotely from scientists on the ground. Results and insights help improve industry, business and medicine on Earth and in space.
JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Soichi Noguchi worked on advanced space science hardware to explore different space manufacturing techniques. He first installed the new Industrial Crystallization Facility that will demonstrate commercial crystal production available only in space. Next, he checked samples inside the Electrostatic Levitation Furnace that investigates the thermophysical properties of commercial materials exposed to extreme temperatures.
NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins spent Wednesday morning readying a pair of U.S. spacesuits that she and fellow NASA astronaut Victor Glover will wear on Sunday. Rubins was joined by astronauts Michael Hopkins of NASA and Soichi Noguchi of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) helping with the spacesuit fit checks today which consists of attaching the correctly sized leg, arm, glove and helmet components. All four astronauts called down to Mission Control in the afternoon to review Sunday’s spacewalk procedures.
Glover and Rubins will exit the station on Sunday about 6 a.m. EST to begin readying the station for upcoming solar array upgrades. Rubins will go out again on Friday, March 5, with Noguchi to work on coolant gear and communication systems. NASA TV will broadcast both spacewalks live.
Glover also had time for research work today as he serviced parts inside the Combustion Integrated Rack to support flame and fuel studies safely. NASA Flight Engineer Shannon Walker replaced communications gear inside the Human Research Facility that enables biological and psychological observations of astronauts.
NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Victor Glover are gearing up for a spacewalk on Sunday, Feb. 28, to ready the station for upcoming solar array upgrades. They will set their U.S. spacesuits to battery power at approximately 6 a.m. EST signifying the start of their spacewalk planned to last six-and-a-half hours. NASA TV will begin its live coverage of the spacewalk activities at 4:30 a.m.
NASA managers will discuss that spacewalk, including a March 5 spacewalk with Rubins and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, on Wednesday during a live briefing on NASA TV set for 2 p.m. The second spacewalk will see Rubins and Noguchi work on upgrading coolant gear and communication systems.
The duo spent Tuesday servicing their spacesuits and practicing safety procedures inside the Quest airlock. Glover cleaned the spacesuit cooling water loops and tested the quality of the water samples collected from the loops. Rubins reviewed the spacesuit caution and warning system then checked glove heaters, helmet cameras and batteries.
In the midst of the spacewalk preparations, the orbital residents have begun unpacking the Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply ship. NASA Flight Engineers Michael Hopkins and Shannon Walker have been offloading the new science hardware, crew supplies and station hardware stowed inside Cygnus. Noguchi transferred Cygnus’ science freezers containing biological samples into the station and installed them into specialized science racks. Rubins and Glover also assisted with the cargo transfers.
Commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos started the day sampling the station’s air and surfaces for microbial analysis. He then inspected and photographed the hull of the Zvezda service module. Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov worked on Russian life support systems and station cameras while also assisting the commander with the Zvezda inspection duties.
Cygnus Resupply Ship Bolted to Station’s Unity Module
The Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo spacecraft was berthed to the International Space Station’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 7:16 a.m. EST Monday morning and subsequently bolted into place. Cygnus will remain at the space station until May, when the spacecraft will depart the station. Following departure, the Cygnus will dispose of several tons of trash during a fiery reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
The spacecraft, which launched at 12:36 p.m. EST Saturday, Feb. 20, on an Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, brings approximately 8,000 pounds of research, hardware, and supplies to the orbiting laboratory to support the Expedition 64 and 65 crews. The Cygnus was captured earlier Monday morning at 4:38 a.m. EST.
Highlights of science investigations aboard this Cygnus include:
A new vision
Millions of people on Earth suffer from retinal degenerative diseases. These conditions have no cure, although treatments can slow their progression. Artificial retinas or retinal implants may provide a way to restore meaningful vision for those affected. In 2018, startup LambdaVision sent their first experiment to the space station to determine whether the process used to create artificial retinal implants by forming a thin film one layer at a time may work better in microgravity.
A second experiment by LambdaVision launching on NG CRS-15, Protein-Based Artificial Retina Manufacturing, builds on the first project, evaluating a manufacturing system that uses a light-activated protein to replace the function of damaged cells in the eye. This information may help LambdaVision uncover whether microgravity optimizes production of these retinas, and could assist people back on Earth.
Bringing advanced computing aboard the space station
Due to a need to prioritize reliability over performance, computing capabilities in space are reduced compared to capabilities on the ground, creating challenges when transmitting data to and from space. Although relying on ground-based computers is possible for exploration on the Moon or in low-Earth orbit, this solution will not work for exploration farther into the solar system. Launched in 2017, the SpaceborneComputer study ran a high-performance commercial off-the-shelf computer system in space with the goal of having the system operate seamlessly for one year. It successfully performed more than 1 trillion calculations (or one teraflop) per second for 207 days without requiring reset.
Spaceborne Computer-2 builds on the successes of this first study, exploring how off-the-shelf computer systems can advance exploration by processing data significantly faster in space with edge computing and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. This experiment plans to demonstrate that Earth-based data processing of current station science data can instead be performed on station. Eliminating the need for researchers to send all raw data back to Earth for analysis could speed scientists’ time-to-insight from months to minutes.
Space worms to the rescue
Tiny worms could help us determine the cause of muscle weakening that astronauts can experience in microgravity. Astronauts work out more than two hours a day aboard the space station to prevent bone and muscle loss caused by living in a microgravity environment during long-duration missions. Thanks to a new device for measuring the muscle strength of tiny C. elegans worms, researchers with the Micro-16 study can test whether decreased expression of muscle proteins is associated with this decreased strength. The device consists of a small microscope slide filled with little rubber pillars. The strength of the worms is measured by how much force the worms apply to the pillars as they move around the slide.
Preparing for the Moon
The International Space Station serves as a testing ground for technologies we plan to use on future Artemis missions to the Moon. The NASA A-HoSS investigation puts to the test tools planned for use on the crewed Artemis II mission that will orbit the Moon. Built as the primary radiation detection system for the Orion spacecraft, the Hybrid Electronic Radiation Assessor (HERA) was modified for operation on the space station.
Verifying that HERA can operate without error for 30 days validates the system for crewed Artemis mission operations. A related investigation, ISS HERA, flew in 2019 aboard the space station. ISS HERA provided data and operational feedback in preparation for the Orion spacecraft’s uncrewed Artemis I mission that will launch in 2021.