Spaceflight Insider

ISS crew tackles advanced science, Tim Peake preps for marathon

Dragon sunrise

The CRS-8 Dragon is seen attached to the Harmony module as the International Space Station enters an orbital sunrise. The cargo ship brought a number of new science experiments to the outpost. Photo Credit: NASA

After a busy month of visiting vehicle traffic, along with the addition of a new module to the International Space Station (ISS), the Expedition 47 crew is settling in for a period of nearly uninterrupted science and outpost maintenance.

This week, in particular, the crew spent a large amount of time working on advanced space science looking at the effects of long-term exposure to space. Additionally, Flight Engineer and British astronaut Tim Peake is planning on testing his endurance Sunday, April 24, when, from orbit, he plans to run the London Marathon.

T2 Treadmill

Archive photo of the T2 Treadmill being used. Tim Peake will use the device, located in the Tranquility module, to run the London Marathon. Photo Credit: NASA

Peake last ran a marathon in 1999—also the London Marathon—in just over 3 hours, 15 minutes. During the process of training for his stay on ISS, he practiced for the 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) race. Additionally, since launching to the station on Dec. 15 of last year, he has periodically done half-marathons on the T2 treadmill.

“I’ve always enjoyed running all my life; I’ve always enjoyed long-distance running,” Peake said.

Peake said his preferred long-distance run is about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) and he does that about twice a week aboard ISS.

“Working out up here, at the end of the day, is a great thing to do,” Peake said, “We float around in all the tasks we do. Although we’re very, very busy up here, we’re not doing much physical work unless it’s something like a spacewalk. So, it’s nice, at the end of the day, to be able to get on the treadmill, to go onto our exercise machine, lift weights and do our strength training and keep ourselves in good shape. It’s very good for the psychological feeling as well and obviously maintaining our muscles and our bones for return to Earth.”

Throughout the week, plenty of science and cargo transfer occurred. On Monday, April 18, a specialized microscope was set up to study how particles behave at nanoscales. The Microchannel Diffusion experiment hopes to improve drug delivery and filtration technologies. Additionally, the Genes in Space study was set up. It arrived in the CRS-8 Dragon that was berthed earlier this month.

The crew also began to outfit the Japanese Kibo module with new gear to extend its external research capability, enabling payloads exposed to the vacuum of space to be moved and accessed with greater ease.

Kopra suit 3011

NASA Astronaut Tim Kopra checks out Extravehicular Mobility Unit 3011 before placing it in the Dragon spacecraft for return to Earth. The suit leaked water into the helmet during a spacewalk earlier in the year. Photo Credit: NASA

Tuesday focused on human research and life sciences. After being installed the day before, the Genes in Space study began. It is a student experiment that will study the link between DNA alterations and weakened immune systems caused by long-duration spaceflight.

The crew also performed a session of the Habitability experiment. They recorded a walk-through video documenting their observations of an area to provide insight relating to human factors. The goal is to understand the relationship between astronauts and their living environment so spacecraft designers can understand how much habitable volume is required on long-term missions.

Wetlab-2 science setup

Astronaut Jeff Williams sets up WetLab-2. Photo Credit: NASA

With two U.S. cargo ships berthed to the outpost, the crew is in the process of distributing the cargo around the space station. U.S. Spacesuit 3011—the one that had water leak into the helmet during a spacewalk earlier in the year—was checked out and placed into the Dragon spacecraft for return to Earth.

Wednesday saw studies conducted to understand how bones and muscles weaken in microgravity. The Rodent Research-3 study was brought to the ISS via Dragon. Twenty mice are being observed by doctors in order to learn how to prevent muscle and bone atrophy. These “moustronauts” will return with the Dragon capsule on May 1.

Also occurring in the middle of the week was research on how plants sense gravity as well as how fluids shift in an astronaut’s body.

On Thursday, the Genes in Space experiment continued. Additionally, WetLab-2—also arriving with Dragon—began validation operations.

WetLab-2 is a hardware system that will measure gene expression of biological specimens in space and transmit the data back to Earth. Currently, life science in space happens slowly: a rocket brings the experiment up, an astronaut follows an experiment procedure and then sends samples back to Earth for analysis.

If any post-flight analysis shows that something unexpected occurred in space and more data is needed, a whole new experiment is designed and flown and the process is repeated. With WetLab-2, ribonucleic acid (RNA) can be extracted through a process called Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction. The RNA is then measured and the data sent down to Earth at the speed of light.

On Friday, ongoing experiments, such as the Sprint study, continued. Sprint looks to understand if high intensity, low volume exercise techniques can prevent bone and muscle loss. Additionally, the Energy experiment, which started on Thursday with astronauts attaching sensors to themselves, was on day two of a 10-day study to provide an assessment of an astronaut’s energy usage and metabolic rate in order to support crews on missions further away from Earth.

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

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