Saturday, August 24, 2013

ISS: Second Spacewalk in a week

Cosmonaut Misurkin during Thursday's EVA.

It's not easy to do two spacewalks in a week, but cosmonauts Misurkin and Yurchikhin just did that. On Thursday during a spacewalk of nearly six hours, they performed maintenance and inspections, and worked on a laser communications experiment until they discovered the base was loose and would require more planning and work than they had time for.

Congratulations to the Russians! Cosmonauts unfurl the flag of Russia during that nation's Flag Day.

Astronaut Nyberg works on the Combustion Integrated Rack.

During the last week the ISS crew continued station maintenance, EVA suit preparations, experiments, and normal spaceflight routines. Karen Nyberg worked on the Combustion Integration Rack, monitoring experiments in weightless combustion. She also performed experiments with the In-Space3 equipment, studying how certain fluids react in a magnetic field in zero-gravity.

Was the camera upside down? Parmitano at work.

Italian astronaut Parmitano installed an Ethernet hub in the Columbia module, and assisted astronaut Cassidy in testing air samples throughout the station for any possible biological contaminations. In a closed environment, it's essential to keep a lid on wastes and molds that could interfere with life support.

From Houston's MIssion Control, engineers began the task of moving the station's robotic arm to a different location near the Kibo module. They are preparing for moving experiments from the Japanese experiment rack to other parts of the station exterior.

UFO watchers go an unexpected sighting during the spacewalk as some strange object was seen by Chris Cassidy floating mysteriously near one of the Progress spaceships. It turned out to be an antenna cover.

Now it's an Identified Flying Object.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

ISS: Russian EVA breaks time record

NASA computer image of spacewalk in progress. Credit: NASA and

Yesterday morning cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Misurkin set a new Russian spacewalk duration record, coming in from the EVA after 7 hours and 29 minutes of maintenance and preparation for the new module coming later this year.

Yurchikhin outside the ISS, installing cable TV. I mean, installing cables for future power routing.

In fact, the cable routing was to extend ethernet wiring from the Zarya and Poisk modules, in preparation for the new module to replace the expiring Pirs module. AT one point in the EVA, cosmonaut Yurchikhim was positioned attached to the Russian cargo boom arm and moved into a working position outside Zarya to work on power cables.

Yurchikhin on the Strela robot arm.

While Yurchikhin continued preparations for the module installation, Misurkin installed an experiment on the outside of the Poisk module and then worked on cable installation as well. This was Misurkins second EVA, and Yurchikhins 7th (!). The EVA was the 172nd ISS spacewalk.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pictures from Docking the HTV4

Astronaut Nyberg in the cupola, practicing docking with the Robotic Arm controls. The view from the cupola windows is extraordinary. Images today from NASA, in the Image Gallery for the ISS mission. Good to see my tax dollars at work!

They make it look too easy, but it's not. On August 9, Japan's HTV4 automated cargo spacecraft reached the International Space Station and was carefully guided to docking through a collaborative effort of the astronauts, Japan's mission control, and NASA's mission control. Following a textbook-perfect series of grappling and robotic arm maneuvers, the craft was docked at the Node 2 docking port. That's the same docking port used by SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft (currently on Earth). What doesn't show in the pictures are the thousands of hours of practice, preparations, and troubleshooting that goes into making sure these systems work perfect every time. And the astronauts make it look good.

Just before Docking: Get your cameras ready... Cassidy and Nyberg in the cupola with HTV4 seen floating above Earth yet some distance from the ISS.

And it's also not just a simple matter to get the spacecraft up to the ISS. There's quite a complex dance of maneuvers, thruster firings, communications relays and a myriad of system checks that ensure that the cargo arrives on time. Well, at least safely. has a great article on the techniques used to get the HTV4 into position for the astronaut crew just before grappling. You can catch lots of information here:

Much closer now. Better get the arm ready.

Nyberg working the robotic arm controls. Although this picture was taken during a training session on board the ISS, the actual scene would have been no different.

And the spacecraft is caught...

HTV4 will stay at the station for some time, as the crew removes the cargo and eventually fills the craft with garbage, waste, and broken or discarded equipment. Some months from now the HTV4 will be undocked, and sent to burn up in the atmosphere over an empty ocean. SpaceX's Dragon will be arriving at the same Node 2 docking port early in 2014.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Russians, Japanese keeping Expedition 36 Supplied

Japan's H-2 rocket stands on Pad 2 at Tanegashima.

These are busy times for space enthusiasts, even without an American manned spacecraft of their own. Not only are rockets launching around the world to place satellites in orbit, rockets are also launching to keep our only manned outpost in space supplied with food and equipment.  This afternoon, Japan's Space Agency launched an H-2 heavy rocket from Pad 2 of the Yoshinobu Complex on Tanegashima Island. Lifted into space was the HTV-4 (H-2 Transfer Vehicle #4) carrying 3.6 tons of supplies and equipment on course to rendezvous with the ISS next Friday.

H-2 liftoff from Pad 2.  HTV-4 coverage by JAXA and seen on SpaceflightNow,com

On board the cargo spacecraft is a new robot: Kirobu. The little human-shaped robot is being called a "robot astronaut" and will perform a Japan-to-ISS conversation with astronaut Koichi Wakata, due to come aboard the ISS in November. Kirobu is programmed with voice-and-face-recognition systems. Japan's roboticists hope to learn how to make robot helpers that will accompany astronauts on long space voyage missions.

Kirobu experiences a moment of microgravity on a parabolic jet flight. Credit: Kibo robot project.

This is the fourth mission of the HTV cargo program. The first HTV was launched in 2009. JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) handles rocket launches from its Tanegashima Island Space Center. After the cargo is removed from the HTV-4 over the next couple of months, ISS crew members will eventually fill the container with trash and disposables, undock the module and direct it to burn up over the ocean. Currently, only SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft is capable of returning to Earth with cargo.

JAXA mission control center for HTV launch.

Station POV: Progress 50 undocks from ISS.

Russia has also recently resupplied the ISS. After undocking the Progress 50 robotic cargo ship from the station (which will also burn up over the ocean), astronauts of Expedition 36 began preparations for another supply effort from Russia. The Progress 50 (designated by Russia as Progress M-18M) included a big piece of equipment from the ISS: the TVIS (Treadmill with Vibration Isolation System), which was replaced recently by a new model BD-2 brought aboard by Progress 51 (M-19M), Up until now, every ISS crew has used the treadmill as part of their physical health program. Some of us who have a love-hate relationships with treadmills on Earth might smile at the thought of the treadmill burning up over the Pacific Ocean.

Astronauts Parmitano (L) and Nyberg practice spacecraft docking procedures.

On approach: Progress 52 heads for a docking. ISS POV.

On July 27, the Russian spacecraft Progress 52 (M-20M) blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome on a direct-to station orbital path. Instead of the normal multi-day approach, the launch window allowed for a 6-hour short trip to the ISS. With Ground flight control maneuvering the Progress spacecraft, the docking occurred at the Russian-built Pirs Module. On board the cargo, NASA and Russian controllers placed some tools which will be helpful in analyzing what may have gone wrong with astronaut Parmitano's EVA suit earlier this month when water began flowing into the space helmet. 

Crowded parking space at the ISS. HTV is on its way as well.

Front view of Progress 52.

July 16: EVA. Astronaut Cassidy replacing equipment.

Engineers are still working out the glitches that occurred when the water leak began only an hour into the EVA on July 16. If they cannot determine the exact cause on the station, they may have to wait for the next SpaceX Dragon flight so the suit can be sent home to Earth. The urgency to discover the problem's cause  is due to the unknown nature, which could affect other NASA spacesuits that the astronauts depend on. As for astronaut Parmitano, he weathered the incident well and continues his mission challenges very well on the ISS.

Italian Superman: Parmitano flies through Japan's Kibo module entrance in a familiar pose.

Japan's robotic vision: Robot Astronauts as long-duration mission companions? Kirobu is just the start it seems.