ISS crew ducks debris as EVA preparations move forward
Members of the Expedition 44 crew had to move out of the way of satellite debris late in the evening of Saturday, July 25. The most recent reminder that the environment above our world is becoming increasingly cluttered, did not impact crew safety or operations and, in fact, it might even get the station’s current residents a little ahead in terms of scheduled tasks.
The six space flyers that are currently serving on the station hail from the U.S., Russia, and Japan. There are three reboosts of the orbiting outpost scheduled between now and the next flight of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft with members of the Expedition 45 crew. That flight is currently scheduled to take place on Sept. 2 of this year.
The space station’s current residents include its commander, Gennady Padalka, along with fellow Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Oleg Kononenko, as well as NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren, and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui.
At present, there is an extra-vehicular activity or “EVA” scheduled to take place on August 10. The spacewalk is planned to last some six hours, and will be conducted so as to replace experiments on the exterior of the orbiting laboratory as well as collect images of the Russian segment of the ISS.
This EVA will be the latest foray outside the space station since the first of its components were sent aloft in 1998. To date, some 187 spacewalks have been conducted in support of the station’s construction and use. With the outpost’s operational life recently increased to extend through 2024 – that number will only increase. It is not just the exterior of the ISS that is busy with scientific study however.
Meanwhile, Kelly, who is conducting a one-year stay on the station (along with Kornienko), continued to work on the Twins experiment – in part to see how long-term stays on orbit impact the human body.
Lindgren continued scientific research by studying how plants adapt to microgravity; he did so by using lettuce plants used as part of the Veggie study. Once Lindgren had completed his work on Veggie, he then moved on to regularly-scheduled maintenance on NASA spacesuits.
Yui meanwhile was kept busy studying how microorganisms can impact crews’ immune systems while on orbit as part of the Microbiome study. Russian cosmonaut Kononenko removed gear from the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft that ferried Kononenko, Lindgren, and Yui aloft during their flight on Wednesday, July 22, from Baikonur. Kononenko also loaded trash and discarded gear into the Progress 58 spacecraft.
If things go according to past procedures, Progress 58 will depart from the space station before the Progress 59 spacecraft is launched (set for a Sept. 21 flight). Once Progress 58 has undocked from the ISS, it will be directed to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere where it will burn up.
Unlike this automated vessel, a lot of debris is left in orbit from the launch vehicles and spacecraft that have been sent to orbit since the start of the space age in the late 1950s.
NASA carries out maneuvers like Saturday’s when the chance that something will strike the station or the spacecraft that ferry cargo and crew is more than 1 in 100,000 (so long as it does not significantly impact mission objectives). If the likelihood of an impact increases to more than 1 in 10,000, a maneuver will be conducted unless crew safety becomes a concern.
While a runaway impact event as depicted in the motion picture “Gravity” is unlikely to take place, the every-increasing amount of orbital debris has crept into the forefront of mission planners minds. A number of methods designed to mitigate the dangers caused by space trash are currently being developed. NASA and other space agency’s are also looking into new methods to extend the period in which spacecraft can remain on orbit and to minimize the amount of cast off rocket stages. SpaceX is currently testing first stages of its Falcon 9 booster that have the capability of carrying out a controlled landing back on Earth.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.