SPACE STATION WEEKLY UPDATE Nov. 17 – Nov. 23, 2014 — Expedition 42 Astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore and cosmonauts Elena Serova and Alexander Samokutyaev kept busy aboard the International Space Station (ISS) last week as they completed research, performed maintenance and educational outreach, and prepared for the arrival of a new set of faces to their temporary home in low-Earth orbit.
Wilmore worked on the Radi-N2 Neutron Field Study (Radi-N2). Radi-N2 will help to describe the neutron environment aboard the station as well as the kind of health risk crews may face and the measures necessary to protect them. Eight neutron “bubble detectors” are installed onto fixed areas in the ISS, and one is even located on a crew member aboard the station. Wilmore retrieved the bubbles this week to finish session number one of four for the study.
Due to the lack of electrical charge in a neutron, their ability to enter the human body and create tissue damage is high. Radi-N2 will assist doctors in more effectively piecing together the relationship between neutron radiation and DNA damage and mutation rates, cataracts some astronauts obtain from space travel, along with other health issues that stem from exposure to radiation.
Bubble detectors give researchers the ability to instantly detect and measure neutron doses. Little droplets of superheated liquid are sent through a clear polymer. Contact with a droplet by a neutron is immediately followed by the vaporization of the droplet, leading to the entrapment of a gas bubble in the gel. The amount of bubbles will allow the measurement of the tissue-equivalent neutron dose.
Wilmore also worked to configure the Multi-purpose Small Payload Rack’s microscope ahead of the Roles of cortical microtubules and microtubule-associated proteins in gravity-induced growth modification of plant stems (Aniso Tubule) study. Aniso Tubule aims to grasp an understanding behind the mechanisms plants use to create stems which will support them in gravity. In hypergravity, the plant’s microtubules adjust to the local gravity field, causing them to form short, thick bodies. During this study, Arabidopsis hypocotyls (thale cress) will be germinated in space and studied with a fluorescence microscope in the Kibo module so that the directions the tubules follow in the stem below the seeds of the new seedlings may be analyzed.
His work this week also included the installation of a 3-D printer to prepare the current and future crews for self-sufficiency. He will be responsible for calibration of the printer and setting up a demonstration of additive manufacturing technology. The purpose of the 3-D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration (3D Printing In Zero-G) experiment is the demonstration to ensure that a 3-D printer can work correctly in space. Usually, 3-D printers work by building layer over layer of heated plastic, metal, or other material it ejects. This research aims to provide the space station with an on-demand machine shop, which is a critical first-step component for future in-space manufacturing and enabling deep-space crewed missions.
Work configuring a microscope in the Fluids Integrated Rack for the Advanced Colloids Experiment-Microscopy-3 (ACE-M-3) experiment was performed by Wilmore this week as well. This study investigates the design and assembly of complex three-dimensional structures from small particles suspended within a fluid medium. Researchers will gain knowledge about the relation between particle shape, crystal symmetry, and structure: a central idea in condensed matter science, by observing small particles suspended within a liquid that builds into 3-D structures. The “self-assembled colloidal structures” play a key role in how advanced optical materials will be designed.
Students at Charles de Gaulle High School in Dijon, France, spoke with Elena Serova, Russia’s first female cosmonaut on the space station, who paused from work this week to talk to them over the amateur radio (ISS Ham) that resides aboard the ISS. After researching the space station, radio waves, and amateur radio, students prepare a variety of questions that range from careers to the science happening on the station. They are then given the opportunity to contact an astronaut and ask up to 20 questions as the ISS passes over the school the students are speaking from. Since Expedition 1, the ham radio has been part of a continual outreach investigation on the station.
Serova and fellow Flight Engineer Alexander Samokutyaev also worked on routine maintenance and continued to offload cargo from the Progress 57 resupply ship, which is currently docked to the ISS Pirs module since its arrival on Oct. 29, 2014. The craft brought the crewmembers approximately three tons of supplies to the ISS crew, including 1,940 pounds of propellant, 48 pounds of oxygen, 57 pounds of air, 926 pounds of water, and 2,822 pounds in spare parts and supplies. Additional work they performed included pairing up for a cardiovascular exam on an exercise bike, sampling the atmosphere on the space station, and testing television downlink signals.
Wilmore, Serova, and Samoukutyaev also made preparations for the arrival of their new partners. NASA astronaut Terry Virts, Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti launched flawlessly on Soyuz TMA-15M from Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, roaring into the night at 3:01:14 a.m. local time Monday, 24 November (4:01:14 p.m. EST Sunday, 23 November). The new crew additions arrived at the space station’s Earth-facing (or “nadir”) Rassvet module at 9:53 p.m. EST Sunday.
A portion of the cargo that arrived with the new Expedition 42 / 43 new crew members is to be used with ongoing and planned research investigations. Data will be gathered and used to gain insight into day-to-day changes in the health of the residents and any occurrences of pain or pressure as they live in microgravity, as a means to develop preventative measures against space headaches caused by intracranial pressure changes.