Spaceflight Insider

ISS crew gear up for visiting vehicle traffic

usos from cupola

Kelly tweets a picture of the US Orbital Segment. He took the image from the Cupola window in the Tranquility module. Kelly is now less than 100 days away from returning home on his year-long mission. Photo Credit: Scott Kelly / NASA

After a few weeks of no visiting vehicle traffic, allowing more time to be spent on science, the crew of the International Space Station are gearing up for a period of comings and goings on board the orbiting laboratory.

The next three-and-a-half weeks will see the slew of visiting vehicles visit and depart the station including the launch of a Cygnus cargo ship, the swapping of an old Progress cargo ship with a new one, and the transfer of crews from Expedition 45 to Expedition 46.

On Dec. 3, Orbital ATK’s Deke Slayton II Cygnus will launch to the station and berth to the Unity module a few days later on Dec. 6. After that, on Dec. 11, Soyuz TMA-17M will undock and land with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, and U.S. astronaut Kjell Lindgren. Upon undocking, Expedition 46 will officially begin.

TMA-19M crew

The next three members to launch to the space station train at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (right), U.S. astronaut Tim Kopra (center), and European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake (left) will launch to the orbiting lab on Dec. 15 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a six-month mission. They will be part of the increment 46 and 47 crew. Photo Credit: NASA

Four days later on Dec. 15, Soyuz TMA-19M will launch and dock with Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, British astronaut Timothy Peake, and US astronaut Timothy Kopra. Peake will be the first British citizen to be selected as an astronaut by the European Space Agency (ESA) to fly in space. Finally, Progress M-28M will undock from the Pirs docking module, on Dec. 19, to make room for the upgraded Progress MS-1, which will launch on Dec 21. MS-1 will dock with Pirs two days later on Dec. 23.

The crew enjoyed a “short” week this week, though, with the Thanksgiving holiday. On Monday, Nov. 23, Kelly and Lindgren attempted to fix the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) in the Destiny laboratory module. On Nov. 17, the MSG’s slide mechanism, which allows work volume to be extended for crew access, failed. Ground teams are working to develop additional procedures for correcting the problem.

Later, Lindgren put on a Holter electrocardiogram to support the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) Biological Rhythms 48 Hours investigation. The study looks at the effects of long-term microgravity exposure on heart function by recording and analyzing an astronaut’s electrocardiogram for 48 hours. ISS crews follow Greenwich Mean Time (GMT); however, it is not known whether a separate biological rhythm is imposed by long-term flight crews. Astronauts wear an Actiwatch for 96 hours and a Holter electrocardiograph for 48 hours to study this.

Kelly thinned seedlings for the Veggie (Veg-01) experiment so that each Plant Pillow has one plant. After growing lettuce earlier this year and last year, the experiment has moved to growing Zinnias. They will be grown for 60 days and are expected to produce flowers. In early 2017, the experiment will attempt to grow tomatoes.

Yui participated in the Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training Study Volume of Oxygen Utilized, known as Sprint VO2. The experiment investigates the use of high intensity, low volume exercise to minimize loss of muscle, bone, and cardiovascular function in station crew members while reducing total exercise time during long-duration space missions.

Later, Kelly, Yui, and Lindgren participated in a conference with ground controllers to discuss the rendezvous operations for the upcoming flight of Deke Slayton II.

On Tuesday, Nov. 24, Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Volkov and Mikhail Kornienko conducted a video conference with the upcoming TMA-19M crew. The purpose was to pass along lessons learned to the three station members-to-be and begin the handover process prior to the arrival of the crew in orbit.

Later, Kelly, Lindgren, and Yui practiced nominal and off-nominal Cygnus rendezvous and capture scenarios with the Robotic Trainer. Additionally, ground team commanded the station’s robotic arm to grapple the Permanent Multipurpose Module using Latching End Effector (LEE) B in support of the investigation into the rigidized mechanism anomaly during unberthing of HTV-5 in September of this year.

Kelly performed thigh and calf ultrasound scans as part of the Sprint Ultrasound experiment, while Kornienko completed a session of the Fine Motor Skills experiment. Fine Motor Skills is the first study to measure long-term microgravity exposure, different phases of microgravity adaptation and sensorimotor recovery after returning to Earth. Both Kornienko and Kelly are providing data for trends in performance in microgravity over their year-long space mission.

turkey day

Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren show off what they planned to eat for Thanksgiving. Their menu included smoked turkey, candied yams, corn, and potatoes au gratin. Photo Credit: NASA

An Emergency Egress Drill was conducted on Wednesday, Nov. 25. The TMA-18M crew (Kelly, Volkov, and Kornienko) practiced procedures for an off-nominal emergency evacuation of the outpost and descent back to Earth. The drill is scheduled when the crew has been living on the station for 12–14 weeks, then once every 2.5 months.

Later, Kelly refilled the Veg-01 plant pillows with water, while Lindgren troubleshooted Robonaut’s Compact Peripheral Component Interface. Yui set up and performed experiment protocols for the Haptics-1 investigation. Haptics-1 is a “force feedback” mechanism. The hardware is a force-reflective joystick mimicking the functions of a video gaming joystick. The experiment is performed in two different configurations to evaluate hardware and human performance under varying conditions: wall-mounted on a rack and body-mounted in a vest assembly.

At the end of the day, Lindgren took off his Holter from Monday and transferred the data from the Holter and the Actiwatch to the Medical laptop.

Wednesday also saw Progress M-29M thrusters perform a reboost of the outpost. The burn lasted 15 minutes and 13.8 seconds increasing the speed of the station by 6.38 feet (1.95 meters) per second, setting up conditions for TMA-17M landing the TMA-19M 4-orbit rendezvous.

On Thursday, Nov. 26, the crew enjoyed a day off for Thanksgiving. Earlier in the week, Kelly and Lindgren detailed what would be on their menu for turkey day and sent well-wishes to the world during a transmission.

Friday, Nov. 27, saw more science with Haptics-1, among other experiments, while Kononenko, Yui, and Lindgren started preparing for their departure in two weeks.


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 website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

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May all the launches to the ISS be successful!!!

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