At 3:13 AM EDT today the Soyuz MS-04 was launched from Baikonur to begin a four orbit, six hour journey to dock with the International Space Station (ISS).
For the first time since October 2005, the vehicle was only carrying two crew members instead of the typical three. This is due to a change made by Russian to switch to only having two crew members on board ISS.
One of the experiments making its way to the International Space Station (ISS) today is the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH). As part of the journey to Mars and beyond being able to grow plants for eating will be very important. This experiment builds on the older Veggie experiment that has been active on the station for a while now.
APH will be an enclosed facility that will allow the team to control the environment including lighting levels, humidity, watering etc. Once installed on the station the first two plants to be grown are Wheat and Arabidopsis which will allow the scientists determine how the facility is operating and have well-known structures that have been studied on Earth.
As with the early Veggie experiments, the crew will not eat anything that has been grown initially, however, one of the scientists said during the NASA “What’s On Board” briefing mentioned.
The APH has the ability to grow four different plants even if they have different growth times, this could allow future crews to grow lettuce, tomato, onions and peppers and have a fresh salad.
NASA announced this week that Astronaut Peggy Whitson, who has already set several space flight records and will soon break Scott Kelly’s record for most time in space by a US Astronaut, will be staying on the International Space Station for an additional three months.
Originally scheduled to return home in June this year with her crewmates Oleg Novitskiy and Thomas Pesquet she will instead transition to the Expedition 52 crew and return home with Fyodor Yurchikhin and Jack Fischer in September.
This was possible because Russia has now switched to a two cosmonaut crew rotation plan, this would have meant that only two people would have been on the station after Peggy and her crew left in June. This extension will allow the station to keep a full complement of people on the station allowing them to continue the same level of science investigations that has been established recently.
When Peggy returns home in September she will have the third longest consecutive stay on the ISS a record that was set last year by Scott Kelly and Mikhail Korniyenko when they spent 340 days aboard the station.
Today Astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson completed a 7 hour 4 minute Extravehicular Activity (EVA) bring the total count of EVA’s performed at the International Space Station (ISS) to 199 for a total time of 1,243 hours 42 minutes.
During the EVA they completed the following primary tasks:-
EPIC MDM removal & replace
Node 3 axial shields install, including replacing a lost shield with the PMA-3 cover.
PMA-3 forward shield install
PMA-3 cummerbunds install
PMA-3 cover removal
Close Node 3 port CDC
As well as the following get-ahead tasks:-
Inspection & cleaning of the Earth-facing berthing port of the Harmony module
During the installation of the Node 3 axial shields, one of them was misplaced and later was seen floating away from the station.
This was Peggy’s eighth EVA for a total time of 53 hours, 22 minutes, making her the most experienced female spacewalker, both for the number of EVAs and cumulative career EVA time.
This was Shane’s sixth EVA for a total time of 39 hours.
Following the successful spacewalk on Friday the International Space Station operations team used the station’s Canadarm2 to move the Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA) 3 from its home on Node 3 where it has been since arrival in October 2000 to the Zenith of Node 2.
With this move complete the next International Docking Adapter (IDA) can be delivered by SpaceX to complete the migration of the two PMA’s to support the Commercial Crew dockings including those by Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX Crewed Dragon scheduled to start either later this year or in 2018.
Mission Control confirms a good PMA-3 relocation, now in its new home on Node 2 Zenith. Final bolt loading still to come.
Astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet completed the third Extravehicular activity (EVA) of Expedition 50 with the successful re-pressurization of the Quest airlock. The spacewalk lasted 6 hours 34 minutes and the astronauts completed the following tasks. Prepare PMA for
Prepare PMA for move
Installed new Epic MDM
Camera WorkLubricated Canadarm2 end effector and inspected a radiator value.
Lubricated Canadarm2 end effector
Inspected a radiator value.
This was the 198th spacewalk performed at the International Space Station, for a total time of 1,236 hours and 38 minutes
This was Shane’s 5th EVA for a total time of 31 hours, 56 minutes and Thomas’s 2nd who now has 12 hours, 32 minutes working outside in space.
The next spacewalk is currently scheduled for March 30th.
NASA Astronaut Jeff Williams broke NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly’s record today for the longest cumulative time spent in space for a US astronaut. Jeff is on his fourth mission to space, which include one Space Shuttle mission and three long duration missions to the International Space Station.
For this current mission Jeff launched on March 18th, 2016 with Cosmonauts Aleksey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka aboard their Soyuz TMA-20M vehicle and docked at the station 6 hours later. Jeff later took command of the station just before the departure of previous commander NASA Astronaut Tim Kopra.
Jeff previous flew on STS-101, Soyuz TMA-8 (Expedition 13), Soyuz TMA-16 (Expedition 21/22).
Jeff will return to Earth in September having surpassed 533 cumulative days in space.
The International Docking Adapter (IDA) that was transported to the International Space Station (ISS) in the trunk of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was successfully installed to the end of the Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 (PMA-2) during a spacewalk today.
Astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins performed a 5 hour 58 minute spacewalk to complete the installation of the IDA, with the exception of a small issue removing the cap from one of the cable connectors the installation went very smoothly. Once the IDA was soft docked to the PMA Astronaut Takuya Onishi commanded two sets of hooks to permanently mate the IDA to the PMA thereby allowing Jeff and Kate to reconfigure the cables on the IDA to allow future visiting vehicle to dock with it.
Once the IDA work was completed they two moved on to installation of cables that will be used for the second IDA which is due to be delivered in late 2017. The crew were planning to attempt some get ahead tasks, however Jeff started to have communication issues and they decided to returned to the airlock to conclude the successful spacewalk.
This was the fourth spacewalk for Jeff, and the first for Kate.
Following the two successful launches over the weekend the International Space Station now has two additional vehicles attached.
Monday evening the Progress MS-03/64P vehicle completed it’s mission with a picture perfect docking to the Pirs module.
And early this morning ISS Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Dr. Kate Rubins successfully captured the Dragon CRS-9 spacecraft.
Three hours later Dragon was berthed to the station completing the two day journey and allowing the crew to begin operations to access the cargo.
Now that Dragon is attached to the station the crew can begin preparations for a Spacewalk to attached the International Docking Adapter 2 (IDA-2) that was carried to the station in the trunk of the vehicle. This is critical to the future of the Commercial Crew program for SpaceX and Boeing as it will allow there new vehicles to automatically dock with the station.