Monday, April 29, 2013

Recent ISS activities

Progress Rocket on the way to the ISS.

Living in space continues to be a busy activity for the Expedition 35 crew on board the International Space Station. Let's take a look at the goings-on of Earth's premium real estate.

ATV-4 in the preparation building.

The European Space Agency has announced the upcoming launch of the next ATV supply mission to the ISS. ATV-4, named Albert Einstein after the famous physicist, is expected to lift off for the station on June 5th this year. The ATV is the 4th to be built in the series, and completed its fueling on April 16th. You can read more about it's mission at SpaceRef:

Cosmonaut Vinogradov as seen by cosmonaut Romanenko's helmet cam.

On April 19, tow  cosmonauts of the Expedition 35 crew ventured outside for a chance to set up an experiment and do some maintenance on the station's exterior. Flight Engineers Roman Romanenko and Pavel Vinogradov installed an experiment that studies plasma waves and space weather, then repaired a navigation antenna that will be needed for the upcoming ATV-4 mission. They then retrieved an experiment and some experiment samples to bring inside the station. More on the spacewalk at:

Astronaut Marshburn experiments with two SPHERES robots.

Experiments and daily maintenance continues on the station. At any given time on the ISS, astronauts are performing medical studies on their own bodies (Yikes!) repairing or doing regular maintenance on station life support and experiment equipment, and working on the myriad numbers of experiments aboard ship. I've been fascinated with the experiments being performed with the SPHERES little robots, to ball-shaped remotely-operated "servants" (we should just call them droids and be done with it!). The NASA experiment SCan (Space Communications and Navigation) tests have begun. This is a laboratory setup that is experimenting with new methods of controlling radio, navigation, and networking solutions by controlling software changes. You can keep up with the goings on at ISS science at

Progress 51 (M-19M) on the pad at Baikonur.

Earlier this month, the crew undocked the older Progress cargo ship (now loaded with station trash and expendables) and Russian ground controllers de-orbited the craft, allowing it to burn up in the atmosphere. Then, on April 24th, the next Progress space rocket blasted off from Baikonur for the station. Designated M-19M or Progress 51, the spacecraft lifted off well but suffered a glitch when one of the navigational antennas malfunctioned. However, Russian mission controllers were able to work around the problem and successfully docked the supply ship on April 26th.

View from ISS of the Progress craft approaching.

Progress 51 brings 3.1 tons of cargo for the Expedition 35 crew, including equipment and life support supplies. The Progress series of supply spacecraft have been one of Russia's outstanding contributions to the ISS project, regularly contributing important cargo to the crews. However, their supply capacity seems smaller now compared to the larger craft such as Dragon which can bring almost 7 tons of supplies. Still, we could not have done the ISS program without such regular life support supply missions.

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