Sunday, May 29, 2016

ISS Crew Completes BEAM Expansion

The expansion of the BEAM test module over time. Credit: NASATV.

It took a little longer than expected, but the BEAM expandable habitat module has been finally extended and inflated. The BEAM (Bigelow Expandale Activity Module) arrived on the SpaceX Dragon flight which docked with the station back on April 8th. A week later, astronauts used the CanadArm robotic arm to remove the module from the Dragon and attach it to the US Harmony module airlock. A month later, it was time to begin the process of expanding the module. There were doubts at first that everything would go right, because the module was late getting to the station and had sit on Earth in its compacted form for longer than expected.
Location of BEAM and other docked spacecraft on the ISS. Credit: NASA.
Last week astronaut Jeff Williams began to slowly bleed air into the bladders that are located in the expandable skin. It was feared by engineers that if they had used the air reservoirs inside the BEAM to inflate the structure, the procedure would go too fast and cause damage. Williams used air from the station itself to fill the bladders slowly. Trouble showed up when indicators failed to show that the straps holding the module in its compact form had failed to release. The expansion was temporarily halted to investigate the situation and determine that yes, the strap had actually released. Williams and the ground engineers took deliberate time-outs to evaluate the situation after several slow sessions of introducing air into the bladders. Slowly, over tow days, as the structure expanded they became more confident and allowed the module to expand much faster. 
Once the expansion was completed, Williams began to use the module air reserves to pressurize the interior of the module. When that is complete, there will be an 80-hour period of watching the sensors and indicators before the hatch is actually opened and astronauts will be allowed to enter.

You can read more about the operation on NASA Spaceflight:

Thursday, May 12, 2016

ISS: Dragon Returns, 3 million photos

Returning Dragon cargo capsule about to splash down in Pacific Ocean. Credit: SpaceX

After parking a large number of spacecraft at it's docking ports, the ISS Expedition 47 let one go: Undocking the Dragon unmanned cargo spacecraft took place on Monday in the morning. After a fiery re-entry, the parachutes opened perfectly and slowed the Dragon to a safe landing off the coast of California later in the afternoon.
Dragon spacecraft in orbit near ISS. NASA photo.
When the Dragon originally arrived back in early April, it marked the return of Dragon cargo deliveries after a one-year absence following a failed mission. This Dragon had brought almost 7,000 pounds of supplies and experiments. After 31 days of docking at the US Harmony module, the empty spacecraft was filled with supplies to return to Earth.
A view of the Japanese Kibo module, connected to the Harmony module. Dragon is shown parked underneath the modules at the Harmony docking port.

As Dragon is the only cargo spacecraft which can return safely to the Earth, instead of garbage and waste, it was filled partially with returning experiment samples stored in a couple of refrigeration containers and other time-dependent science experiments. About 3,000 pounds of items were stored carefully in the capsule.

Dragon is moved to release point by the CanadArm robotic arm. NASA TV.
Also this week, ISS astronauts achieved a significant milestone in the course of living and working in space. NASA announced on Tuesday that astronauts had taken the 3,000,000th picture aboard the station. The subject was the combined crew of expeditions 47/48:
Number 3,000,000: Front (L-R): British ESA astronaut Tim Peake, NASA astronaut and Expedition 47 commander Tim Kopra, and Roscosmos (Russia) cosmonaut (Flight Engineer) Yuri Malenchenko. Back row (L-R): Russian cosmonauts (Flight Engineers) Oleg Skripochka, Alexey Ovchinin, and NASA astronaut (Flight Engineer) Jeff Williams. Picture taken on April 30, 2016.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

50 Years Ago: President Johnson Sets UN Space Goals

President Lyndon Johnson stands holding image of Ed White, Jr. (on left) during the first US spacewalk. President Johnson was a great supporter of NASA all through the space program's early history. 

Fifty Years ago, on May 7th, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave a speech indicating that he would seek several important goals in a new UN space treaty. The UN treaty would state: "(1) the moon and other celestial bodies should be free for exploration and use by all countries; (2) no country should be permitted a claim of sovereignty; (3) there should be freedom of scientific investigation, and all countries should cooperate in scientific activities relating to celestial bodies; (4) efforts should be made to avoid harmful contamination; (5) astronauts of one country should give any necessary help to astronauts of another country; (6) no country should be permitted to station weapons of mass destruction on a celestial body; and (7) weapon tests and military maneuvers should be forbidden."
While all these points have been carefully followed over the last 50 years, that last point about military tests and maneuvers has only loosely been followed, and in fact the US, China and Russia have tested weapons in space.