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Expedition 46 preps Cygnus for unberthing, conducts life science experiments

<center>Expedition 46 Flight Engineer Tim Peake <strong><em><a href="" target="_blank">tweeted</a></em></strong> this picture of the soon-to-depart Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship. It has been attached to the station since December 2015 and will be unberthed by the station's robotic arm on Feb. 19. Photo Credit: Tim Peake / NASA</center>

Expedition 46 Flight Engineer Tim Peake tweeted this picture of the soon-to-depart Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship. It has been attached to the station since December 2015 and will be unberthed by the station’s robotic arm on Feb. 19. Photo Credit: Tim Peake / NASA

The crew on board the International Space Station (ISS) spent the last week conducting life sciences, repairing equipment on board the orbiting lab and prepping Orbital ATK’s OA-4 Cygnus for departure late next week.

Expedition 46 spent much of the past week conducting physics experiments and life science studies while continuing to pack trash inside the Deke Slayton II. The Orbital ATK cargo ship, which has been attached to the station since December, is scheduled for unberthing on Feb. 19. Additionally, Commander Scott Kelly took some time out of the week to talk with ABC and CNN about his year-long mission as well as some of his more memorable moments.

Kelly EVA selfie

Scott Kelly performed his first spacewalks late last year. He said it was one of the most exciting things he has done on his one-year stay aboard the International Space Station. Photo Credit: Scott Kelly / NASA

Kelly said he is fortunate that a lot of interesting things have happened while he’s been on board the ISS, including the science that was conducted, the vehicles that visited the ISS, and the crew members who came and went at the outpost. According to the space flight veteran, the most thrilling aspect of his extended stay on orbit was his jaunts outside. Kelly performed three extravehicular activities since launching to orbit in March of last year (2015): one in October, November, and December each.

“For me, having never done [a spacewalk] before, that is really a pretty significant memorable event,” Kelly said, “Just the difficulty of working in the suit and doing a spacewalk and the complexity of it. Also, the view of the Earth from the outside is even more incredible than it is from inside here.”

On Feb. 8, British astronaut Tim Peake finished maintenance work on the Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (ELF), a task that has been ongoing for the last couple of weeks. ELF will study the thermophysical properties of various materials.

Meanwhile, NASA astronaut Tim  tested the flammability of different textiles inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), located in the station’s Destiny module.

Later that day, Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko partnered to test each other’s blood pressure and vision for the Ocular Health study, which aims to understand the visual impairment some astronauts incur during missions in space.

More life science occurred on Feb. 9 when crew members participated in immunology research to learn how to keep astronauts healthy during long-duration, deep space missions. Vision and heart health checks were also carried out.

Kelly then collected body samples to look for microbes that could potentially cause infections or allergies before storing them in a science freezer for later analysis.

More immunity research occurred with Peake taking saliva samples for an experiment researching biomarkers for immune dysfunction in space. Kornienko, on the Russian side of the space station, explored how radiation affects the immune system in the Neiroimmunitet Experiment.

The next day, Feb. 10, the crew studied how microgravity affects exercise, the biological clock, as well as fire. Kopra scanned his legs in the morning using an ultrasound for the Sprint study, which explores exercise techniques for crews in space. Later he conducted fire research in the MSG.

Kopra at the MSG

Tim Kopra works at the Microgravity Science Glovebox. He set up and tested materials for the Burning and Suppression of Solids-Milliken (BASS-M) experiment. The BASS-M investigation tests flame retardant cotton fabrics to learn how well they resist burning in microgravity. Photo Credit: NASA

Kelly and Peake met in the Quest airlock to team up on replacing a Fan Pump Separator (FPS) inside spacesuit number 3003—a task that took the rest of the day. The FPS that was removed had failed to start during an inspection activity to fill the Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment—a device astronauts wear to regulate body temperature while on spacewalks—in December.

On the Russian Orbital Segment, cosmonaut Sergey Volkov studied the human digestive system, while Yuri Malenchenko worked on ways to train crews on orbit. Additionally, Kornienko changed a lens on EarthKAM, a camera that students can control to take pictures of features on Earth.

Spacesuit work that started on Wednesday was finished on Feb. 11. The crew will inspect the repair work on Monday before it is certified for a return to service. The pump that was removed will be packed inside Soyuz TMA-18M to return to Earth for inspection.

Afterwards, Kelly, Kornienko, and Kopra each scanned their eye and heart with an ultrasound for the Ocular Health study.

Meanwhile, Kopra attached sensors to himself for the Sprint study, while Peake collected breath samples for the Marrow experiment, which observes how microgravity affects bone marrow and blood cells.

Also on Thursday, ground controllers maneuvered the space station’s robotic Canadarm2 into position to prepare it for next week’s unberthing of the Cygnus cargo ship.

More life sciences and physics experiments were conducted on Friday before the crews began their “off duty” and weekly cleaning of the station on Saturday. It was during this time that Kelly had a chance to talk to users on Tumblr in an “Answer Time” from space.

Kelly answered a number of questions: some serious—how his sleep patterns have changed while being on ISS for a year; others, playful—how the space station would wear pants if it wore them.

“Answer: it would wear the same pair for 6 months like me!” Kelly said.

Kelly answered other questions, some about his favorite orbital views—auroras—as well as the ongoing science experiments that are taking place ‘uphill’. During his yearlong stay, more than 400 individual studies have been performed.

Finally, user sadness-freedom asked what Kelly’s motivation to continue his incredible trip into space was.

“Doing something very hard motivates me,” Kelly said, “Generally things that have value are hard. Space is hard. That’s what keeps me going.”

Kelly has surpassed 500 cumulative days in space in his career—more than 320 on this mission alone. He, along with Korniyenko and Volkov, will return to Earth in Soyuz TMA-18M on March 2.

Scott, perhaps, summed up this past week on orbit through a February 13 tweet: Day 323. If you can dream it, you can do it. from !

Video courtesy of NASA


Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity.

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