The first full week of the new year was busy on the International Space Station (ISS), aside from Wednesday, when the entire Expedition 42 crew was given a much-deserved day off in observance of the Russian Christmas holiday. As the crew waited for the SpaceX Falcon 9 to launch with their CRS-5 Dragon capsule full of goodies, work continued for ongoing science experiments and research.
Last week, NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore worked on the European Space Agency Haptics-1 investigation, working to set up equipment and upgrade software. The ESA Haptics-1 study is aimed at learning how astronauts can use remote control while in orbit to handle rovers on the ground. For the experiment, haptic feedback happens through a simple joystick used while playing simple computer games. A very precisely designed system of servomotors will create vibrations for crew members to feel movement through the joystick—similar to encountering an in-game obstacle in a video game. To keep the movement from pushing around the user, who is free-floating around on the ISS, it will be attached to a body harness that can be attached to station equipment.
When astronauts are in orbit around a planet, getting haptic feedback is helpful to figure out how to handle any robots they have moving around on the ground. Haptic feedback occurs when touch and vibrations are transferred to a person handling a controlling device. The Haptics-1 research is beginning to look at the development of robots that can transmit their movements via touch feedback to the astronaut controlling them. This is the first time this kind of research has been conducted on people in space. There are many unknowns the experiment will hopefully answer. It will look at whether astronauts can feel and respond in space the same as on Earth to transfer vibrations to the controller, along with how the feedback will feel to them. Results from this study could lead to crews having the ability to control scouting rovers from orbit, leading to saved money and safer crew conditions.
Wilmore also partnered with NASA astronaut Terry Virts to film more scenes for the new documentary, “A Perfect Planet”—a three-dimensional documentary being produced by IMAX. Using images taken on board and from the ISS, the movie will give people insight on the way natural and human forces affect Planet Earth from the perspective of its orbit. Virts and Wilmore shot interior crew activities scenes as part of their ongoing work on the project.
The ISS is used for scientific research, as well as being a midpoint between Earth and deep space travel. The IMAX film will teach viewers about NASA’s part in mankind’s quest to explore space, with a focus on the purposes of the space station. It will inform viewers about climate change, use of limited resources, and the role humans and natural forces play in changing the planet. The power of conservation, sustainability, and environmental awareness are shown as well, and the film will be released to audiences around the globe.
Last week, Virts and Wilmore also completed more preparations on the European ATV-5 resupply spacecraft’s upcoming undocking and departure from the space station on Feb. 27, 2015. Carrying a load of trash and discarded gear, it will be disposed of as it burns up re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
Samantha Cristoforetti, an astronaut for the European Space Agency (ESA), completed work on the Autonomous Mission Operations TOCA Autonomous Operations Project (AMO-TOCA) investigation last week. She finished an analysis and made plans for future activities for the study, which is aimed at learning how ISS crew members work on the management of advanced software and spacecraft systems, allowing ground crews to play a lesser role in those operations. Due to the delay in communications that will occur between distant crew and mission control on missions into deep space to asteroids or Mars, this research will be pivotal in fulfilling the required level of independence that will be required of the astronauts.
The work for the study revolves around the Total Carbon Analyzer (TOCA), which ensures that reclaimed water aboard the station is potable. The idea of AMO-TOCA is to move control of the management of certain station systems from ground-based flight personnel to the ISS crew, including the TOCA system’s maintenance schedules, sample analysis, and failure and recovery planning. The research will also be useful on Earth, where advanced analytical software can be beneficial in any place with limited or delayed communications, such as natural disaster zones or deep mines.
The crew also made final preparations for the arrival of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, which, after a successful launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, arrived at the space station this morning, Jan. 12, bringing with it over two tons of experiments, equipment, and supplies, and will stay at the ISS for four weeks.
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