Station Set to Orbit Higher as Crew Performs Biomedical Tests

Station Set to Orbit Higher as Crew Performs Biomedical Tests

Expedition 55 Flight Engineer Drew Feustel of NASA
Expedition 55 Flight Engineer Drew Feustel of NASA is inside the Japanese Kibo laboratory module talking to dignitaries on Earth, including university officials, musicians and scientists, during an educational event that took place at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

The International Space Station is set to raise its orbit Wednesday ahead of upcoming cargo and crew missions. Meanwhile, the six Expedition 55 crew members are staying busy today with medical tests, cargo work and lab maintenance.

The space station will increase its altitude slightly when a docked Russian cargo craft automatically fires its engines for two minutes and six seconds early Wednesday. The maneuver will establish the correct orbit for the landing of three crew members in June and a two-orbit rendezvous capability for the next Russian Progress resupply craft in July.

Flight Engineer Scott Tingle collected and stowed his own urine sample today for a pair of biomedical studies examining the effects of spaceflight on the human body. The U.S. Navy pilot also continued operations for the Metabolic Tracking (MT) experiment that observes how human tissue samples are impacted by a specific drug compound.

Expedition 55-56 crewmates Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold checked each other’s eyes today using optical coherence tomography gear inside the Harmony module. Feustel also installed and checked the station’s first updated printer since 2000 before wrapping up his day unloading cargo from the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft. Arnold finally collected water samples and changed out a cartridge as part of preventative maintenance on a U.S. oxygen generator.

Astronaut Norishige Kanai from Japan continued more upkeep work for the Mouse Stress Defense experiment that is exploring the causes of muscle and bone loss in space. The busy flight engineer later assisted his fellow crew members unloading SpaceX cargo before injecting human tissue samples with a drug compound for the MT study.

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Mark Garcia

ISS

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Medicine and Mice Research All Week Long for Astro-Scientists

Medicine and Mice Research All Week Long for Astro-Scientists

The Bahamas
The clear blue waters surrounding the islands of the Bahamas were pictured April 4, 2018 from an Expedition 55 crew member aboard the space station.

Scientists on the ground and in space this week are exploring a wide variety of phenomena affecting humans living in space. The ongoing life science aboard the International Space Station is designed to improve astronauts’ health in space and benefit people on Earth.

Medicine plays an important role in an astronaut’s health and doctors want to know more about how drug therapies work in space. NASA Flight Engineer Drew Feustel supported the medicine research today and injected human tissue samples with a drug compound for the Metabolic Tracking study. Those samples will be incubated then frozen before returning to Earth to be analyzed. Results may help the pharmaceutical industry design better, cheaper drugs for humans on Earth and in space.

Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai is tending to mice today, cleaning their habitats and preparing for a week-long run of the Mouse Stress Defense experiment. The Expedition 55 crew and doctors on Earth are observing the mice to understand the processes leading to muscle and bone loss in microgravity. Researchers are testing therapies that may prevent the physiological signals and stresses in space that lead to a weakened musculoskeletal system.

Other important space research taking place throughout the week will look at how plants grow off Earth possibly sustaining future crews and improving Earth agriculture. The crew will also test the new Miniature Exercise Device-2 for providing a range of motion and resistance exercise while taking up less space aboard the station.

More external cargo operations took place outside the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship over the weekend. Robotics controllers remotely operating the Canadarm2 stowed a failed pump flow control sub-assembly (PFCS) in Dragon’s trunk ahead of a May spacewalk. That spacewalk will see two astronauts work outside the station to relocate a series of spare sub-assemblies for functional testing.


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Mark Garcia

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New Book Offers Inside Look at Station Flight Controllers

New Book Offers Inside Look at Station Flight Controllers

Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier
The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier, is now available to download for free at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH

Ever wanted a deeper dive into the life of the International Space Station? The flight directors in charge of the teams that oversee its systems have written a 400-page book that offers an inside look at the time and energy the flight control team at the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston devote to the development, planning and integration of a mission.

The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier, is now available to download for free at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH.

Here’s an excerpt from the book to give you a taste of what to expect:

Chapter 10: Preparing for the Unexpected

At 2:49 a.m. Central Standard Time, a red alarm illuminated the giant front wall display in Mission Control in Houston. The alert read: TOXIC ATMOSPHERE Node 2 LTL IFHX NH3 Leak Detected.

The meaning was clear. Ammonia was apparently leaking into the Interface Heat Exchanger (IFHX) of the Low Temperature cooling Loop (LTL) in the Node 2 module.

“Flight, ETHOS, I expect the crew to be pressing in emergency response while I confirm,” said the flight controller from Environmental and Thermal Operating Systems (ETHOS). In other words, the crew needed to don oxygen masks to protect themselves from ammonia while ETHOS looked more closely at these data.

This was not a drill. When the red alarm appeared, the flight director turned her full attention to ETHOS. The words—unwelcome at any time from ETHOS—were especially jarring at an hour when the crew and the ground were humming along on a busy day of running experiments. Of the many failures for which the flight control team prepares, especially in simulations, this failure presents one of the most life-threatening situations, and one the team never wants to encounter on the actual vehicle.

On January 14, 2015, this scenario happened on the International Space Station (ISS). Data on the ETHOS console indicated toxic ammonia could be bleeding in from the external loops, through the waterbased IFHX, and into the cabin (see Chapter 11). Software on the ISS immediately turned off the fans and closed the vents between all modules to prevent the spread of ammonia. At the sound of the alarm, crew members immediately began their memorized response of getting to the Russian Segment (considered a safe haven, since that segment does not have ammonia systems) and closed the hatch that connected to the United States On-orbit Segment (USOS). They took readings with a sensitive sensor to determine the level of ammonia in the cabin. The flight control team—especially the flight director, ETHOS, and the capsule communicator (CAPCOM [a holdover term from the early days of the space program])—waited anxiously for the results while they looked for clues in the data to see how much, if any, ammonia was entering the cabin. Already, the flight director anticipated multiple paths that the crew and ground would take, depending on the information received.

No ammonia was detected in the cabin of the Russian Segment. At the same time, flight control team members looked at multiple indications in their data and did not see the expected confirming cues of a real leak. In fact, it was starting to look as if an unusual computer problem was providing incorrect readings, resulting in a false alarm. After looking carefully at the various indications and starting up an internal thermal loop pump, the team verified that no ammonia had leaked into the space station. The crew was not in danger. After 9 hours, the flight control team allowed the crew back inside the USOS. However, during the “false ammonia event,” as it came to be called, the team’s vigilance, discipline, and confidence came through. No panicking. Only measured responses to quickly exchange information and instructions.

Hearts were pumping rapidly, yet onlookers would have noticed little difference from any other day.

A key to the success of the ISS Program is that it is operated by thoroughly trained, well-prepared, competent flight controllers. The above example is just one of many where the team is unexpectedly thrust into a dangerous situation that can put the crew at risk or jeopardize the success of the mission. Both the flight controllers and the crews, often together, take part in simulations. Intense scenarios are rehearsed over and over again so that when a real failure occurs, the appropriate reaction has become second nature.

After these types of simulations, team members might figure out a better way to do something, and then tuck that additional knowledge into their “back pocket” in the event of a future failure. Perhaps the most famous example of this occurred following a simulation in the Apollo Program. After the instructor team disabled the main spacecraft, the flight controllers began thinking about using the lunar module as a lifeboat. When the Apollo 13 spacecraft was damaged significantly by an exploding oxygen tank, the flight control team already had some rough ideas as to what they might do. Since the scenario was not considered likely owing to all the safety precautions, the team had not developed detailed procedures. However, the ideas were there.

Keep reading at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH.

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Mark Garcia

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More Human Research as Dragon Offers New Earth Observation Gear

More Human Research as Dragon Offers New Earth Observation Gear

SpaceX Dragon Space Freighter
The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship, with the 57.7-foot-long Canadarm2 robotic arm in the foreground, is pictured installed to the Harmony module’s Earth-facing port.

The Expedition 55 crew continued exploring today the numerous ways the human body is affected when living in space long-term. More cargo transfers are also taking place both inside and outside the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship.

NASA Flight Engineer Scott Tingle processed human tissue cultures for the Metabolic Tracking (MT) experiment to help doctors understand how medicine impacts astronauts.  His fellow NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold looked at a set of different biological samples for the student-built Genes in Space-5 experiment. That study is researching if DNA alterations and a weakened immune system are connected due to microgravity.

Arnold later joined Flight Engineer Drew Feustel for a routine eye exam with a fundoscope to get a good look at their retinas. The duo also worked to unload more cargo from Dragon which has been attached to the Harmony module since April 4.

Back on the ground at Mission Control in Houston, robotics engineers are working to remotely extract the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) experiment from Dragon’s trunk. They are operating the Canadarm2 to detach ASIM, an Earth observation facility, from Dragon and install it on the Columbus laboratory module. ASIM will study severe thunderstorms and their role in the Earth’s atmosphere and climate.

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Mark Garcia

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Crew Researching Plants, Medicine and Unloading New Science from Dragon

Crew Researching Plants, Medicine and Unloading New Science from Dragon

NASA astronaut and Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold
NASA astronaut and Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold works with the student-designed Genes in Space-5 experiment inside the Harmony module. The genetic research is helping scientists understand the relationship between DNA alterations and weakened immune systems possibly caused by living in space.

Today’s research aboard the International Space Station is primarily focusing on how plants react and how medicine works in space. The Expedition 55 crew and robotics controllers are also continuing cargo operations inside and outside the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft.

Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold participated today in the Plant Gravity Perception experiment, one of several ongoing space botany studies. The station crew is helping scientists explore how plants determine which way to grow and perceive light in microgravity. Results may help future astronauts training for longer missions beyond low-Earth orbit learn how to grow crops in space to sustain themselves.

Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai continued research into how the human body in space metabolizes medicine. NASA astronaut Drew Feustel started operations with the Metabolic Tracking (MT) experiment this morning before handing it off to Kanai. MT is looking at a particular type of medicine and how it interacts with human tissue cultures. Results could improve therapies in space and lead to better, cheaper drugs on Earth.

Scott Tingle of NASA partnered with Arnold today unloading more cargo from Dragon. They continue to unpack several thousand pounds of new science experiments, station hardware and crew supplies.

Outside the Dragon in its trunk is the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) experiment that will be robotically removed Friday. Engineers on the ground operating the Canadarm2 will maneuver ASIM, an Earth observation facility, and install it on Europe’s Columbus lab module.

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Mark Garcia

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