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Robotics Testing on Station; Soyuz Prepped for Launch
Commander Kevin Ford

Commander Kevin Ford works with Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES. Credit: NASA TV

Expedition 34 Commander Kevin Ford of NASA and Russian Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin performed medical and robotic experiments Wednesday aboard the International Space Station. The station’s crew also participated in a conference call with three additional flight engineers who are now in the final week of Soyuz launch preparations before they join their crewmates aboard the orbiting complex.

Ford began his workday relocating the Intravehicular Tissue Equivalent Proportional Counter, which helps monitor the radiation field aboard the space station. Afterward, the commander reviewed procedures and gathered materials that will allow him to replace experiment hardware inside the Combustion Integrated Rack’s combustion chamber Thursday.

Ford spent most of his afternoon working with free-flying, bowling-ball-sized robots known as Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES, for a remotely commanded robotics test. The trio of SPHERES, which have been aboard the station since 2003, have been upgraded with commercial, off-the-shelf smartphones to allow flight controllers at Mission Control Houston to fly the robots and eventually use the phones’ cameras and sensors to perform inventory and environmental surveys aboard the station.

› Read more about SPHERES

Novitskiy started his day working on the Russian BAR experiment, which looks at methods and instruments for detecting the location of a loss of pressure in the station’s modules. Later he packed trash and unneeded items into the Progress 48 cargo craft for disposal when that vehicle completes its mission at the station in February and undocks for a destructive re-entry. Novitskiy rounded out his day with the Vzaimodeystviye (Interactions) experiment, which monitors the crew’s adaptation to long-duration spaceflight.

Tarelkin focused on routine maintenance, cleaning fan screens in the Pirs docking compartment and replacing filters. He also participated in a Russian Earth-observation experiment known as Vizir.

JSC2012-E-242529: Soyuz encapsulation

In the Integration Facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft is encapsulated into the upper stage of the Soyuz booster Credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov › View image

Ford, Novitskiy and Tarelkin teamed up in the afternoon for a space-to-ground conference call to discuss handover activities with the three flight engineers who will be joining them aboard the station next week. Tom Marshburn of NASA, Roman Romanenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency are scheduled to launch to the space station in their Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft at 7:12 a.m. EST (6:12 p.m. Baikonur time) Wednesday, Dec. 19, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The trio will dock the Soyuz spacecraft to the station's Rassvet module at 9:10 a.m.

The Soyuz TMA-07M was encapsulated in the upper stage of its Soyuz booster at the Baikonur Cosmodrome Integration Facility on Wednesday.

Marshburn, Romanenko and Hadfield will conduct a final unsuited “fit check” dress rehearsal inside the Soyuz on Friday. All three stages of the Soyuz will be mated together Sunday and transported by railcar to the launch pad the following day.

› Read more about Soyuz launch preparations