The six-person Expedition 40 crew of the International Space Station wrapped up the week Friday with more biomedical research, computer upgrades and some final closeout activities following Monday’s Russian spacewalk.
For Commander Steve Swanson and Flight Engineers Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev, Friday marked their 150th day in space as they head into the homestretch of their long-duration mission. The trio is scheduled to depart the station aboard their Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft on Sept. 10 for a parachute-assisted landing in the steppe of Kazakhstan less than 3 ½-hours later.
Their crewmates, Flight Engineers Max Suraev, Reid Wiseman and Alexander Gerst, are just a little past the halfway point of their 5 ½-month stay aboard the complex, having arrived at the space station on May 28. Suraev will become commander of Expedition 41 when the Soyuz TMA-12M undocks.
In the U.S. segment of the station, the astronauts conducted biomedical studies designed to track the effects of weightlessness on the human body and develop countermeasures to keep the crew healthy.
Wiseman participated in the Sprint experiment, which measures the effectiveness of high-intensity, low-volume exercise training in minimizing the loss of muscle mass and bone density that occurs during spaceflight. With assistance from Swanson, Wiseman conducted an ultrasound scan of his own right thigh and calf. Station crew members currently work out around 2 ½-hours every day, and the Sprint team is looking into ways to reduce that total exercise time while maintaining crew fitness.
Afterward, Wiseman spent some time configuring computers and Ethernet cables for the ground commanded deployment of new software on the Station Support Computers. These computers, which relay information and email to the crew, are being upgraded to operate more efficiently and at a faster rate than ever before.
Gerst meanwhile participated in the Body Measures studies, which collects detailed measurements of the astronauts’ bodies before, during and after spaceflight to help researchers understand the magnitude and variability of the changes to body size caused by the exposure to microgravity. Predicting these changes will maximize crew performance, prevent injury and reduce time spent altering or adjusting spacesuits and workstations. The investigation also could help scientists understand the effects of prolonged bed rest, which produces physiological changes similar to those experienced in microgravity. Swanson was again on hand to assist his crewmate with experiment data collection.
Gerst then moved on to a periodic fitness evaluation as he worked out on the station’s exercise bike – the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation and Stabilization. Wiseman assisted Gerst by initiating blood pressure and electrocardiogram measurements to give the ground team insight into the crew’s cardiovascular and musculoskeletal health.
Afterward, Gerst took a break from his work to answer questions from social media during a televised event inside the Columbus module. The German astronaut discussed life and work aboard the station. When asked what advice he could offer the world thanks to his orbital perspective, Gerst responded, “I don’t think I should give advice to anybody, because who would listen to a guy who flew into space just because he flew into space? My approach to this is actually let the people on Earth see the Earth through my eyes. And that’s why I tweet so many pictures. …”
Gerst later removed the Facility for Absorption and Surface Tension, or FASTER, from the European Drawer Rack in the Columbus module. FASTER investigated the stability of emulsions with an eye toward developing environmentally friendly products.
Commander Swanson spent the remainder of his day in the Japanese Kibo laboratory relocating a Payload Data Handling unit, while Wiseman wrapped up his work with the computer upgrades.
On the Russian side of the complex, Skvortsov and Artemyev returned Pirs to its normal configuration in the wake of Monday’s five-hour, 11-minute spacewalk from the Pirs airlock. During that excursion, Skvortsov and Artemyev manually deployed a Peruvian nanosatellite and installed and retrieved science packages on the station’s exterior.
Skvortsov and Artemyev also took some time in the morning to conduct a study of the veins in their lower legs.
Suraev spent much of his morning transferring water from the ISS Progress 56 cargo ship docked to the Pirs docking compartment. The future commander also reconfigured one of the Station Support Computers after it received its new software load.
Later, Suraev performed another session of the Calcium experiment, which examines the causes of the loss of bone density that occurs in a weightless environment. For this study, Russian researchers are looking at the solubility of calcium phosphates and human bone samples in water in space.
Thursday night and early Friday morning there were multiple attempts to continue the deployment of more NanoRacks CubeSats from the deployer mechanism attached to the Japanese robotic arm outside the Kibo module. The attempts were unsuccessful for unspecified reasons. Earlier this week, four pairs of Planet Labs Dove satellites were ejected from their slots on the deployer. No further attempts to eject the deployer’s remaining four pairs of CubeSats will be made over the weekend while payload controllers at the Marshall Space Flight Center and Japanese flight controllers at Tsukuba Space Center troubleshoot the issue. Pending the results of that investigation, the team may either attempt another deployment from this set or return the mechanism to the Kibo airlock.
Four clusters of deployers containing a total of 28 Dove nanosatellites and four additional CubeSats were among the nearly 3,300 pounds of science and supplies delivered to the station in July by Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo vehicle.