Three crew members headed to the International Space Station are safe and healthy as they continue on their journey to the orbiting outpost today. All systems on their Soyuz spacecraft appear to be functioning normally, and Russian flight controllers confirmed this morning that the Soyuz TMA-12M vehicle performed two rendezvous maneuvers required to put the spacecraft on a trajectory for docking at approximately 7:58 p.m. EDT Thursday, March 27, U.S. time.
NASA’s Steve Swanson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev launched at 5:17 p.m. Tuesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and had been scheduled to arrive to the orbital complex at 11:05 p.m. Tuesday. When their spacecraft was unable to complete one of its automated burns to fine-tune its approach for a single day launch-to-docking profile, the crew and Mission Control teams reverted to a two-day rendezvous for which the crew and Mission Control teams are well trained and ready to support. That burn and an additional maneuver have subsequently taken place without issue, setting the stage for Thursday evening’s arrival.
Like the previous Soyuz mission in November 2013, some of the cargo flown aboard this Soyuz TMA-12M will be used in research investigations that are either ongoing or planned aboard the International Space Station. Questionnaires for the Space Headaches investigation will be delivered to obtain in-flight data about the prevalence and characteristics of crew members' headaches in microgravity. Space Headaches researchers use this data to assess crew member headache episodes and provide the basis for developing future countermeasures. The effect of the medication that the crew takes to counteract space headaches helps determine what medication could be effective in treating intracranial pressure change related symptoms on Earth.
Soyuz TMA-12M will also carry hardware for the Microbiome investigation, which will continue the studies on the impact of space travel on the immune system and on human microbiomes – microbes living in and on the human body at any given time. Like the previous Soyuz mission samples from crew members’ bodies and the space station environment will be taken periodically to monitor changes in the immune system and microbiomes. The results of this study may add to research on health impacts to people who live and work in extreme environments on Earth, and help with research on early disease detection, metabolic function and immune system deficiency.
Meanwhile, the crew orbiting on the International Space Station has replanned its day after staying up late in anticipation of greeting their new crewmates. After sleeping in, the station residents had a short day working on normal science and maintenance tasks.
Commander Koichi Wakata began his day conducting his periodic fitness evaluation on the station’s exercise bicycle. He checked his blood pressure while also hooked up to an electrocardiogram. After completing his evaluation, Wakata calculated his body mass using the space linear acceleration mass measurement device (SLAMMD). The station commander later conducted a ham radio pass.
NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio’s first task was to gather gear for collecting samples in the afternoon from the Regenerative Environmental Control and Life Support System. He then opened the Destiny lab’s observation window shutter to allow automatic photography for the ISERV Earth observation experiment.
Mastracchio also assisted Wakata in measuring the commander’s blood pressure during his fitness evaluation and measured his own body mass on the SLAMMD after Wakata completed his session on the device. After lunch, Mastracchio was back at work repairing hardware and checking out gear for the Burning and Suppression of Solids combustion experiment.
Three-time space station resident and veteran cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin worked in the station’s Russian segment updating the inventory management system.
NASA Television coverage of Thursday’s docking is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Hatch opening is currently scheduled for 10:40 p.m., and will be followed by a welcoming ceremony with Expedition 39 Commander Koichi Wakata and Flight Engineers Rick Mastracchio and Mikhail Tyurin. NASA TV coverage of hatch opening is scheduled to begin at 10:15 p.m.
The change in plans for the trio’s arrival at the station is not expected to affect the plan to launch the third SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle to the station at 10:49 p.m. Sunday, March 30, from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.