Three-Day Weekend for Astronauts as Cosmonauts Study Space Exercises

Three-Day Weekend for Astronauts as Cosmonauts Study Space Exercises

The Mediterranean, north Africa, Italy and Greece
This view from the International Space Station looks from northeast to southwest, from Greece, Italy and across the Mediterranean Sea to Libya. The Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft is pictured in the foreground.

Four Expedition 59 astronauts are taking a three-day weekend aboard the International Space Station after packing a U.S. space freighter for return to Earth. The two cosmonauts focused on exercise studies, physics research and life support maintenance on the Russian side of the orbiting lab.

NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Anne McClain and Nick Hague and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques are relaxing today following last weekend’s SpaceX Dragon cargo loading and closeout activities. The quartet spent the first part of the week cleaning and stowing hardware after Dragon returned to Earth Monday full of completed experiments and station gear for analysis.

Station Commander Oleg Kononenko attached sensors to Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin today monitoring his vital signs during an exercise study to determine the most effective workouts in space. Ovchinin cleaned up afterward then researched plasma crystals, or highly charged micro-particles that form self-organized structures in microgravity. The duo also checked life support systems, configured communications gear and inspected the structural integrity of the station’s Russian segment.

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Mark Garcia

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BEAM Opens for Tests; Crew Studies Biotech and Fluid Physics

BEAM Opens for Tests; Crew Studies Biotech and Fluid Physics

NASA astronaut Nick Hague
NASA astronaut Nick Hague assembles and installs the Water Storage System inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module.

The International Space Station’s BEAM opened up today for environmental sampling and cargo stowage activities as NASA continues to test the commercial module.  The Expedition 59 crew also explored biotechnology and fluid physics to improve Earth applications and space habitability.

Astronauts Anne McClain, Christina Koch and David Saint-Jacques checked out BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, today to sample the air for microbes and stow spare hardware inside. BEAM had its stay at the station’s Tranquility module extended in November 2017 after a successful installation and expansion in the spring of 2016. The soft material module is providing extra storage space at the orbiting lab and additional technology demonstrations that may inform future missions.

After the BEAM work, McClain sampled algae grown inside the Photobioreactor to explore the viability of closed, hybrid life-support systems in space. Koch wrapped up a study observing how fluids slosh and wave in space to improve satellite fuel systems and increase knowledge of Earth’s oceans and climate.

Flight Engineer Nick Hague spent the majority of Thursday installing Water Storage System components in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module. The space plumbing work consisted of installing a variety of hoses including power and data cables to the main Potable Tank Assembly.

Commander Oleg Kononenko and Alexey Ovchinin started the morning taking breath and blood pressure measurements for a cardiopulmonary study. Next, they tested communication systems in the Soyuz MS-11 crew ship and spent the rest of the afternoon on a variety of Russian science and maintenance activities.

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Mark Garcia

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Eye and Artery Scans, Robotics and Fluid Studies for Earth and Space Benefits

Eye and Artery Scans, Robotics and Fluid Studies for Earth and Space Benefits

The six-member Expedition 59 crew
The six-member Expedition 59 crew gathers for a portrait inside of the vestibule between the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft and the Harmony module the day before the commercial space freighter’s departure.

The International Space Station residents continued exploring today what living off the Earth for long periods is doing to their body. The Expedition 59 crew also researched ways to improve life in space and even filmed a virtual experience aboard the orbiting lab.

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch took turns serving as Crew Medical Officer during a round of ultrasound eye exams Wednesday morning. The duo scanned the eyes of Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineers Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques ahead of their homecoming June 24. Astronauts have reported vision issues during and after their missions. The eye imaging helps doctors understand how microgravity impacts the cornea, lens, optic nerve and the shape of the eyeball.

Saint-Jacques once again had his blood pressure checked and arteries scanned with an ultrasound device to investigate how weightlessness affects the cardiovascular system. Arterial stiffness has been observed in space and the study may help offset the negative effects improving life in space and on Earth. The astronaut from the Canadian Space Agency also recorded a virtual reality video of his biomedical activities for later viewing on Earth.

McClain monitored a small cube-shaped robot called the Astrobee and tested its ability to float around the Kibo laboratory module autonomously. Engineers are assessing the free-flying device’s potential to perform routine maintenance duties and provide additional lab monitoring capabilities.

Koch wrapped up the day in Europe’s Columbus laboratory module setting up a fluid physics study that has been observing sloshing and waves on the station since 2016. The Fluidics study uses a motorized instrument to slosh fluids in tanks with video and data downlinked to researchers on the ground. Results could optimize the design of satellite fuel systems and increase the understanding of Earth’s oceans and climate.

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Mark Garcia

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US, Russian Spaceships Depart Amid Physics and Biology on Station

US, Russian Spaceships Depart Amid Physics and Biology on Station

June 4, 2019: International Space Station Configuration
Four spaceships are docked at the space station including Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter and Russia’s Progress 72 resupply ship and the Soyuz MS-11 and MS-12 crew ships.

A pair of U.S. and Russian resupply ships have departed the International Space Station this week. Russia’s Progress 71 (71P) cargo craft undocked this morning and the SpaceX Dragon returned to Earth Monday.

The 71P, packed with trash and unused hardware, undocked from the aft end of the Zvezda service module today at 3:40 a.m. EDT. It reentered Earth’s atmosphere and safely burned up over a remote portion of the Pacific Ocean. This completes a mission that began when the 71P launched Nov. 16 and delivered almost three tons of cargo two days later to the Expedition 57 crew.

Amidst all the cargo transfers and spaceship departures, the Expedition 59 crew found time for continuing space research. Monday saw astronauts David Saint-Jacques and Christina Koch explore the possibility of fueling satellites in space and separating gases and fluids in advanced life support systems. Flight Engineer Anne McClain cleaned an incubator after the completion of an experiment that observed altered gene expressions occurring in space.

Today, the crew is conducting a variety of biomedical research and space botany.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague examined the eyes of cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Alexey Ovchinin today using optical coherence tomography hardware. Saint-Jacques had his leg artery remotely scanned by a doctor on the ground studying cardiovascular health in space.

Koch set up botany hardware today in Europe’s Columbus laboratory module for ongoing research into growing a continuous supply of fresh food in space. McClain continued incubator closeout activities in Japan’s Kibo laboratory module.

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Mark Garcia

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Dragon Completes Cargo Return Mission with Splashdown in Pacific

Dragon Completes Cargo Return Mission with Splashdown in Pacific

The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship
The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship is pictured moments before its release from the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. Credit: @Astro_DavidS

SpaceX‘s Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 5:48 p.m. EDT (2:48 p.m PDT), approximately 202 miles southwest of Long Beach, California, marking the end of the company’s 17th contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA. The spacecraft returned more than 4,200 pounds of valuable scientific experiments and other cargo.

Some of the scientific investigations Dragon returned to Earth include:

Observing Protein Crystal Growth

NASA’s Biophysics-6 experiment looks at the growth of two proteins of interest in cancer treatment and radiation protection. Scientists are using ground-based predictions and in-space X-ray crystallography to determine which proteins benefit from crystallization in microgravity, where some proteins can grow larger and with fewer imperfections.

Microalgae Biosynthesis in Microgravity

Microalgae Biosynthesis in Microgravity (MicroAlgae) studies the effects of microgravity on Haematococcus pluvialis, an algae capable of producing a powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin. It could provide a readily available dietary supplement to promote astronaut health on long-duration space exploration missions. A community college student and alumnae of the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program proposed the research, and NCAS is engaging community colleges across the U.S. to conduct ground studies for comparison to the in-orbit investigation.

Genes in Space

On May 23, astronauts aboard the space station successfully edited DNA using CRISPR/Cas9 technology for the first time in space, working on the Genes in Space-6 investigation. This milestone advances understanding of how DNA repair mechanisms function in space and supports better safeguards to protect space explorers from DNA damage. Genetic damage caused by cosmic radiation poses a serious risk to space travelers, especially those on long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars. CRISPR/Cas9 now joins a growing portfolio of molecular biology techniques available on the ISS National Lab.

These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations aimed at keeping astronauts healthy during space travel and demonstrating technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, including missions to the Moon by 2024 and on to Mars. Space station research also provides opportunities for other U.S. government agencies, private industry, and academic and research institutions to conduct microgravity research that leads to new technologies, medical treatments, and products that improve life on Earth.

For more than 18 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 230 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,500 research investigations from researchers in 106 countries.

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.

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Mark Garcia

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