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ISS Expedition 50 crew preps for January spacewalks

Expedition 50 astronaut Peggy Whitson sent a festive photo to those on the ground. She and Tomas Pasquet will perform two critical maintenance spacewalks in the first two weeks of 2017. Photo Credit: NASA

Expedition 50 astronaut Peggy Whitson sent a festive photo to those on the ground. She and Thomas Pasquet will perform two critical maintenance spacewalks in the first two weeks of 2017. Photo Credit: NASA

With the Japanese Kounotori 6 cargo craft firmly attached to the International Space Station’s Harmony module, the six-person Expedition 50 crew is heading into the holiday weekend with images of spacewalk preparations dancing in their heads.

Expedition 50 consists of Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrei Borisenko – who arrived in Soyuz MS-02 in October 2016 as part of Expedition 49; and NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitski – who arrived in Soyuz MS-03 in November 2016.

Shane Kimbrough in Quest

Shane Kimbrough floats in the Quest Joint Airlock next to the two spacesuits he was performing maintenance on in advance of January’s two spacewalks. Photo Credit: NASA

The crew will enjoy a light-duty weekend and share a Christmas meal. As Dec. 25 falls on a Sunday this year, normally an off-duty day anyway, they will get Monday, Dec. 26, 2016, as a day off as well, save for the usual daily maintenance and exercise activities.

On Friday, Dec. 23, Commander Shane Kimbrough started scrubbing cooling loops inside and testing water in the U.S. spacesuits, called Extravehicular Mobility Units, that will be used in two spacewalks in the first two weeks of 2017.

U.S. Extravehicular Activity (EVA) 38 will occur on Jan 6 and EVA-39 on Jan 13. Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet will be the astronaut duo performing the spacewalk. The goal of the two EVAs is to replace 12 old nickel-hydrogen batteries with six new lithium-ion batteries on the station’s Integrated Truss Assembly.

The new batteries were brought up to the outpost in the exposed pallet on the Kounotori 6 spacecraft. The Robotic Canadarm2 already removed the pallet from the unpressurized section of the cargo craft and temporarily stowed it on the Mobile Base Unit.

Nine of the 12 old batteries will be placed in the exposed pallet next month as soon as the new batteries are installed. Canadarm2 will then be commanded to move the pallet back into Kounotori 6’s unpressurized section.

In the meantime, the Expedition 50 crew has been performing many ongoing science experiments. Whitson and Pasquet drew blood, urine, and saliva samples for the Fluid Shifts study, which looks at how the upward flow of body fluids in space affects vision in astronauts and cosmonauts.

According to a NASA update, the crew recently wrapped up part of a muscle research program. The Sarcolab experiment, as it is called, measures how the calf muscles change in space. To measure muscle, an ultrasound and electrode stimulators are used. The first part of the experiment was completed on Dec. 22.

Also on Dec. 22, an enhanced small satellite deployer was installed in the Kibo module. It replaced an older model, which happened to deploy its final CubeSat on Dec. 19.

The new model was delivered by the Kounotori 6. It has twice the satellite deployment capacity than the older version.

Kounotori 6 arrived at the outpost on Dec. 13 after a successful Dec. 9 launch out of the Japanese Tanegashima Space Center. It was the final of six successful cargo ships to arrive at the ISS in 2016.

Video courtesy of NASA Johnson



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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