Sunday, May 11, 2014

Expedition 39 Prepares for Transition

In a recent crew picture, the current Expedition 39 crew poses "Encircling the Earth." At bottom is Expedition Commander Koichi Wakata of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Clockwise from him is Alexander Skvortsov, Mikhail Tyurin, Steve Swanson, Rick Mastracchio, and Oleg Artemyev.

Crew members of the 39th expedition to the International Space Station are preparing for a week of station departures. On May 13th, Expedition 39 Commander Koichi Wakata, Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin, and Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio will depart from the ISS in Soyuz spacecraft TMA-11M and land Tuesday night in Kazakhstan. On Sunday May 18, astronauts will undock the Dragon cargo spacecraft so that ground controllers can direct it to a re-entry and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Rick Mastracchio operates experiments on the Harmony module. He's working inside the Micro 7 BioCell experiment chamber.

Around and between the departures, astronauts and cosmonauts work on maintenance of the station and  operation of the science experiments. On Thursday a power channel connected to one of the Solar Panel arrays blew and ceased transmitting power. According to procedures, a backup power channel kicked in and the station had no interruption of operations.

Astronaut Steve Swanson works with experiments on the BioRack inside the Japanese Space Agency Kibo module. Swanson is designated to become the next expedition commander when Expedition 39 departs Tuesday.

Astronauts also completed transferring important used equipment, experiments, and science samples into the Dragon spacecraft. Normally, waste and garbage is packed into the cargo ships for disposal when the craft burns up in re-entry. However, the Dragon is the only cargo spacecraft that returns to Earth for a safe Splashdown and Recovery. Astronaut Steve Swanson spent Saturday training with the Canadian-built RoboticArm which he will use to move the undocked ship away from the station.  Astronauts also worked to complete storage of personal and important items in the cramped Soyuz capsule.

Picture through a station window of the Soyuz capsule command section. The green extension device is the Periscope which allows Soyuz occupants a direct forward view. As the Soyuz command section (which completes the trip back to Earth) is in-between the science/payload section and the service section (both of which burn up on re-entry) the occupants cannot have a direct view forward and must use the periscope.

One of the station astronauts took this picture from one of the station's windows. We see a half-lit Moon
above the Earth on May 6th. Currently, the ISS is mankind's manned outpost in space, albeit in Earth orbit and totally dependent on re-supply from the planet below. Looking to the Moon, I think of the days when we were so hopeful and forward thinking that we completely expected to have a permanent base on that body by now. The fact that we don't is an indictment of our wishy-washy politics and failed leadership to provide a sustained vision of space exploration.

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