[image-94]The six astronauts and cosmonauts of the International Space Station’s Expedition 38 crew began their final week together Monday with scientific research, maintenance tasks and preparations for the return home of three crewmates after nearly six months in space.
With an eye toward their upcoming departure aboard a Soyuz spacecraft, Expedition 38 Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineers Mike Hopkins and Sergey Ryazanskiy performed leak checks on the Sokol launch and entry suits they will wear during the journey back to Earth. The commander also spent some time gathering up items to be packed inside the Soyuz. The three are scheduled to undock from the station March 10 at 8:04 p.m. EDT aboard their Soyuz TMA-10M spacecraft and land southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan at 11:26 p.m. (9:26 a.m. March 11, Kazakhstan time). They arrived at the space station back on Sept. 25 less than six hours after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The departure of Kotov, Hopkins and Ryazanskiy will mark the end of Expedition 38 and the beginning of Expedition 39 under the command of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, who arrived at the orbiting complex Nov. 7 along with Flight Engineers Rick Mastracchio and Mikhail Tyurin.
Wakata began his workday aboard the station Monday with a round of exams for the Ocular Health study, as researchers work to track down the root causes of the vision changes that have been observed in some astronauts returning from long-duration spaceflight. With assistance from the Ocular Health team on the ground and Mastracchio, Wakata tested his vision, measured his blood pressure and checked his intraocular pressure with a tonometer.
[image-78]With last week’s deployment of the final batch of NanoRacks CubeSats now completed, Wakata and Hopkins worked in concert to bring the CubeSat deployer back inside the Kibo module for its removal from the Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform and reconfigure the scientific airlock. Over the past several weeks, the 33 CubeSats that were delivered by Orbital Science’s Cygnus cargo craft in January were deployed from the station. More CubeSats are scheduled to arrive to the station on next Orbital cargo mission in May.
Hopkins also collected water samples for the Microbiome study, which takes a look at the impact of space travel on the human immune system and an individual’s microbiome -- the collective community of microorganisms that are normally present in and on the human body. In addition to providing data that will keep future crews healthy, findings from this study could benefit people on Earth who work in extreme environments and further research in the detection of diseases, alterations in metabolic function and deficiencies in the immune system.
Mastracchio spent much of his afternoon working with spacesuits inside the Quest airlock. With a replacement U.S. spacesuit scheduled to be delivered to the station aboard the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft in March, Mastracchio gathered up parts to resize that suit and prepared one of the current U.S. station suits for return to Earth aboard Dragon for maintenance. Dragon is scheduled to launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 16 and rendezvous with the station March 18. Dragon will spend about a month berthed to the station during SpaceX’s third commercial resupply services mission before departing for splashdown and recovery in the Pacific Ocean.
[image-51]Mastracchio also performed routine maintenance on the recycling system that turns the crew’s wastewater into clean, drinkable water.
Ryazanskiy assisted Tyurin with a cardiovascular study, collecting medical data while his colleague worked out on an exercise cycle. The two cosmonauts also worked together on the Kaplya-2 experiment, which studies the fluid motion and heat transfer of monodisperse drop flows in space.
Meanwhile the three flight engineers who will complete the six-person Expedition 39 crew are in their final month of preparations for launch. NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev are preparing for the start of two days of final qualification exams Tuesday at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. On March 13, they will fly to the launch site in Baikonur to begin the final phase of training for their launch on March 25 aboard the Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft.