SPACE STATION WEEKLY UPDATE Dec. 29, 2014 – Jan. 4, 2015: This week, a busy work schedule on the International Space Station (ISS) was placed on hold briefly to allow the crew members of Expedition 42 to join in on the celebration of the turn of another year. Around the holiday, work this week was conducted in several areas of ongoing research, and preparations continued for the upcoming SpaceX CRS-5 Dragon arrival as the $100 billion orbiting microgravity research outpost looks toward a busy year ahead.
The Expedition 42 crewmembers of the ISS experienced the coming of the new year 16 times this week, while they circled Earth at 17,500 mph. The crew, which includes NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts, Russian cosmonauts Elena Serova, Anton Shkaplerov, and Alexander Samoukutyaev, and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, officially rang in the new year toasting with fruit juice at 7:00 p.m. EST on Jan. 31—the official time midnight strikes on the Universal Time Clock (UTS) (better known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)) in London. They had a busy work day on New Year’s Eve day, but were given a well deserved day of rest to follow on New Year’s Day.
The crew continued preparing for the upcoming SpaceX-5 commercial resupply mission, which will deliver a capsule full of supplies to the members of the space station. The launch of the SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft, is scheduled to take place Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, at 6:20 a.m. EST. Dragon will arrive at the ISS Thursday, Jan. 8, where Wilmore will be waiting, ready to deploy the 58-foot robotic arm to capture the Dragon to berth it to the station. Dragon will be carrying over 3,700 pounds of experiments, technology demonstrations, and supplies, which include critical materials crucial to the 256 science and research investigations that are slated to take place during upcoming Expeditions 42 and 43.
READ our in-depth preview of the busy year ahead on the ISS.
An experiment to study the basic behavior of colloids taking place on the ISS was further worked on this week. Wilmore continued work on the Binary Colloidal Alloy Test Low Gravity Phase Kinetics-Critical Point (BCAT-KP) study, mixing sample 5 for a four-week run of the investigation. The results from BCAT-KP add to the information already learned from a decade of findings the BCAT series of experiments have provided.
BCAT-KP studies the core behaviors of colloids (mixtures of small particles distributed throughout a liquid). These mixtures include substances such as milk, detergents, and liquid crystals. The information gathered about how colloids function in microgravity will assist researchers in improving products on Earth, since gravity determines the way the particles bind together and sink. The principal investigator has reported interesting results so far, as each of the four samples mixed prior to this week displayed different behaviors.
VIDEO: Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts of NASA wish the world a happy New Year during downlink messages from the orbital complex on Dec. 17, 2014.
Phase separation of liquids and gasses is almost always significantly affected by sedimentation when gravity exists since gasses are, in general, less dense than other liquids formed by the same material. Since the processes are so slow, observation of a full run of phase separation is unobservable in an environment with gravity without sedimentation occurring and affecting the process. Therefore, the experiment is done on the ISS in microgravity, where observations can occur for weeks or months, undisturbed by the unwanted factors created by gravity.
Further work was also completed this week on the Spaceflight Effects on Neurocognitive Performance: Extent, Longevity, and Neural Bases (NeuroMapping) investigation, when Virts had his first session with the experiment.
Research and the accounts of crew members that previously returned from long-duration spaceflight missions confirm that microgravity has an effect on movement control and cognition. The NeuroMapping investigation’s goal is to gain insight into the types of changes that occur in the brain during long-duration spaceflight. The results will be gathered from structural and functional magnetic resonance brain imaging (MRI and FMRI) to look at brain structure and function, motor control, and multi-tasking. The length of time it takes for brain and body recovery from changes that may take place will also be determined.
Cristoforetti finished a second session for the investigation known as Blind and Imagined—a collection of two studies that were created to run a series of tests on the physical senses of the crewmembers aboard the space station. Movement in Orbital Vehicle Experiments Short and Blind (MOVE SB) and Space Height Reference in Non-gravitational Kinetics (SHRINK) are the two studies in the set. Researchers hope to gather data on the sensory and motor changes that happen in a space environment by having camera record crewmembers moving their arms and hands as they imagine themselves throwing a ball on Earth and in microgravity.
Also this week, Cristoforetti prepared hardware for the Prospective Observational Study of Ocular Health in ISS Crews (Ocular Health) investigation, which will be used to conduct eye exams with ocular coherence tomography—technology which records a comprehensive 3-D image of the retina and interior of the eyes. Once hardware was set up, Wilmore carried out eye exams on Cristoforetti and Virts.
Some crewmembers experience impaired vision from the effects of spaceflight on their eyes. The Ocular Health study uses data collected on the visual health of astronauts while they are on long-term spaceflights and after they return to Earth. Along with monitoring visual impairment, the tests will also measure changes that scientists believe come from elevated intracranial pressure due to the effects of microgravity on the visual, vascular, and central nervous systems. Once astronauts are back on the ground, the length of time before their health is restored will also be studied.