Departure Preps and Robotics Aboard Station Wednesday
With three of its six crew members set to return home in less than a week, the International Space Station’s Expedition 35 crew tackled a full agenda of space research, robotics and station maintenance Wednesday.
The crew’s day began with several experiments to track the effects of spaceflight on the human body. Commander Chris Hadfield and Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn participated in the Pro K experiment as nutritionists evaluate dietary changes to lessen the bone loss experienced by astronauts in space. Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin assisted Flight Engineer Roman Romanenko with a blood draw for the Immuno study, which takes a look at immunological changes that occur during and after spaceflight. After the two cosmonauts processed the sample with a centrifuge, Marshburn stored the sample in the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS, or MELFI, to preserve it for later study back on Earth.
Inside the Destiny laboratory, Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy powered up Robonaut for another round of ground-commanded tests for the first humanoid robot in space. The robotics team at Houston’s Mission Control remotely directed Robonaut to open up a zipper on a protective cover. While seemingly simple, this task is an important step in proving Robonaut’s vision acquisition system can interact with small objects that are not always stationary. Robonaut was designed with the intention of eventually taking over tasks deemed too dangerous or mundane for astronauts and even venturing outside the complex someday to assist spacewalkers.
› Read more about Robonaut
Cassidy and Marshburn spent the majority of their morning in the Tranquility module removing and replacing an air selector valve inside the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly, or CDRA. Part of the station’s Environmental Control and Life Support System, CDRA removes carbon dioxide and trace contaminants from the station atmosphere and monitors the composition of the air.
Commander Hadfield checked the progress of a crystal experiment inside NanoRacks using a microscope and took additional photos to provide researchers on the ground a closer look. NanoRacks provides lower-cost microgravity research facilities for small payloads utilizing a standardized “plug-and-play” interface.
The commander inspected the station’s water supply with the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer to ensure that it remains free of any contamination. He also spent some time inside the Quest airlock scrubbing the cooling loops of the airlock and the U.S. spacesuits.
Hadfield rounded out his day downloading data collected earlier from medical monitors worn by Marshburn for the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment. Researchers are studying the atrophy of the heart muscle that appears to occur during long-duration spaceflight in order to develop countermeasures to keep the crew healthy. The research may also have benefits for people on Earth with heart problems.
The station’s astronauts had several opportunities throughout the day to photograph the planet below as part of the ongoing Crew Earth Observations program. The station’s track Wednesday provided the crew an excellent view of the Mississippi delta to collect photographs of the flood basins and wetlands, as well as detailed imagery of the Atchafalaya Delta region to document the changes caused during recent hurricanes. The crew was also advised to keep an eye out as the station passed over California to photograph the impacts of the recent wildfires there. The crew’s photographs are made available online at the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.
› Visit the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth
Flight Engineer Pavel Vinogradov collected surface samples throughout the Zvezda service module to check for any microbial contamination.
Romanenko meanwhile downloaded data from the Matryoshka experiment. Named for the traditional set of Russian nesting dolls, Matryoshka analyzes the radiation environment onboard the station.
Romanenko also participated in the Lower Body Negative Pressure evaluation as he donned a special pair of trousers that draw the body’s fluids to the lower half of the body by acting as a sort of reverse blood-pressure cuff to simulate gravity. Russian researchers collect this data to predict how the cosmonauts will adjust to the return to Earth’s gravity at the end of their mission.
Romanenko, along with Hadfield and Marshburn, will be returning to Earth on Monday after nearly 5 months in space. The three are scheduled undock their Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft from the station at 7:08 p.m. EDT Monday and land in southern Kazakhstan at 10:31 p.m.(8:31 a.m. Tuesday, Kazakh time).
Meanwhile, the three new crew members who will return the station to its full six-person complement after the departure of Hadfield, Marshburn and Romanenko are continuing preparations for their May 28 Soyuz launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Karen Nyberg of NASA, Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin held a pre-launch news conference Wednesday at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia before traveling to Red Square in Moscow to lay flowers at the Kremlin Wall where Russian space icons are interred.
Overnight the engines of the docked ISS Progress 51 cargo ship were fired to boost the station into the proper phasing for these upcoming activities. The 14-minute, 18-second burn beginning at 2:51 a.m. raised the station to an orbit of 258.7 by 255.4 statute miles.
› Read more about Expedition 35
› Read more about Expedition 36