Crew Relaxing Ahead of Cargo Dragon Departure and Spacewalks
The Expedition 64 crew had a light duty day Thursday following a busy holiday season filled with space research and U.S. cargo ship departure preparations. Soon the astronauts will be ramping up for a set of International Space Station maintenance and upgrades spacewalks planned for January and February.
Final science experiments are wrapping up this week waiting to be packed inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft and returned to Earth no earlier than Monday for analysis. NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins stowed microbial cultures in science freezers today that will soon be loaded inside the Cargo Dragon. The samples will be analyzed by scientists on the ground to understand the microbial risk to a spacecraft’s environment.
The Dragon is due to undock from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter on Monday at 9:25 a.m. EST live on NASA TV. Rubins will be on duty Monday monitoring Dragon’s undocking as it departs the station carrying several tons of hardware and completed space studies. NASA and SpaceX engineers will be on hand to retrieve the Dragon after its splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.
A pair of spacewalks is targeted for the end of January for upgrades on the outside of the orbiting lab. U.S. astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover will be ramping up their preparations for the two spacewalks over the next several days. The duo will be outfitting science hardware on Europe’s Columbus laboratory module during the first spacewalk and will upgrade high definition video and camera gear on the second.
Two more spacewalks are planned in February for electrical work and to set up experimental hardware for a technology demonstration.
At 10:10 a.m. EST, flight controllers on the ground sent commands to release the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft from the Canadarm2 robotic arm after earlier detaching Cygnus from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module.
The Cygnus spacecraft successfully departed the International Space Station three months after arriving at the space station to deliver about 8,000 pounds of scientific experiments and supplies to the orbiting laboratory.
Prior to departure, the crew packed Cygnus with the Saffire V investigation and the SharkSat hosted payload to be conducted during an extended mission in orbit. On Jan. 26, Northrop Grumman flight controllers in Dulles, Virginia, will initiate Cygnus’ deorbit to perform a safe re-entry, burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.
About three months after delivering several tons of scientific experiments and supplies to the International Space Station, Northrop Grumman’s uncrewed Cygnus cargo spacecraft is scheduled to depart the orbiting laboratory Wednesday, Jan. 6. This morning, flight controllers on the ground sent commands to use the Canadarm2 robotic arm to robotically detach Cygnus from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module and maneuver it into place.
Live coverage of the spacecraft’s release will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 9:45 a.m. EDT, with its release from the robotic arm scheduled for 10:10 a.m.
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will monitor Cygnus’ systems upon its departure from the space station.
The Cygnus resupply spacecraft is named in memory of Kalpana Chawla, the first female astronaut of Indian descent. Chawla, who dedicated her life to understanding flight dynamics, died in the STS-107 space shuttle Columbia accident.
Cygnus arrived at the space station Oct. 5 with nearly 8,000 pounds of supplies, scientific investigations, commercial products, hardware, and other cargo following an Oct. 2 launch on Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.
U.S. Cygnus Cargo Craft Ready for Wednesday Departure
The U.S. Cygnus space freighter has been packed and is “go” for its departure from the International Space Station on Wednesday morning. The Expedition 64 crew is also wrapping up variety of science experiments and loading a second U.S. cargo craft for its return to Earth next week.
NASA Flight Engineer Victor Glover closed the hatch to Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus resupply ship attached to the Unity module on Tuesday afternoon. He will be on duty Wednesday morning monitoring Cygnus when mission controllers remotely command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release it into space at 10:10 a.m. EST. NASA TV begins its live coverage of Cygnus’ departure at 9:45 a.m.
Cygnus will orbit Earth on its own until Jan. 26 for a series of flight tests and automated science experiments before deorbiting above the Pacific Ocean for a fiery, but safe destruction. Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins of NASA readied one of those experiments today, the Saffire-V spacecraft fire study, just before hatch closure. That investigation will set a controlled fire inside Cygnus once it reaches a safe distance from the station to explore fire safety in confined spaces such as a spacecraft.
The SpaceX Cargo Dragon is next on the departure schedule with its undocking set for Jan. 11 at 9:25 a.m. The Cargo Dragon will parachute to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean just a few hours after its separation from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter.
NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins is winding down several studies and readying the results for return to Earth next week inside the upgraded U.S. resupply ship. Rubins worked on the Cardinal Heart investigation that observes engineered heart tissue samples to understand the aging and weakening of heart muscles that astronauts experience in space. Next, she inoculated cultures of microbes for a study exploring the microbial risk to a spacecraft’s environment.
New Year Brings Space Biology and U.S. Cargo Ship Departures
The seven-member Expedition 64 crew relaxed on New Year’s Day and went into the first weekend of 2021 researching space biology. The International Space Station residents are also packing a pair of U.S. resupply ships for departure this week and next.
Three astronauts spent Saturday and Sunday studying how microgravity affects vision and bone tissue in rodents. Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover of NASA spent the weekend observing several dozen mice to help scientists prevent vision and bone conditions that astronauts experience while living in space. JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi assisted the duo during the two life science experiments.
A different pair of biology studies is exploring how weightlessness impacts potential treatments for Earth and space-caused conditions. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins spent Sunday peering through a microscope at protein crystals which are much higher quality those produced on Earth. Results from that experiment could inform ways to commercialize the development of cancer therapies in space. She also looked at engineered heart tissues to gain insights into aging and weakening heart muscles that humans experience on and off the Earth.
Rubins will monitor Cygnus’ departure first on Jan. 6 after mission controllers on the ground command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to remove it from the Unity module then release it into Earth orbit. Cygnus will orbit Earth on its own until Jan. 26 for flight tests and remotely controlled science experiments.
The Cargo Dragon will be loaded with samples from this weekend’s experiments and more, including space station hardware, for return to Earth on Jan. 11. Glover will monitor the first undocking of the Cargo Dragon from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. This will also be Dragon’s first planned splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.