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Expedition 39 Crew Begins Final Workweek on Station

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Mon May 5, 2014 10:14 pm via: NASA
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Scientific research, robotics and preparations for the return to Earth were the focus of activities Monday aboard the International Space Station as three of the six Expedition 39 crew members head into their final full workweek aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Station Commander Koichi Wakata began his workday measuring the circumference and muscle strength of one of his arms to check the results of a dozen Hybrid Training sessions over the past month. This Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency study takes a look at the health benefits of applying electric stimulation to a muscle opposing the voluntary contraction of an active muscle. In addition to providing a backup to the traditional exercise devices aboard the station, Hybrid Training may be useful in keeping astronauts fit as they travel beyond low Earth orbit aboard smaller spacecraft.

Backdropped against a cloudy portion of Earth, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator -- the Canadian Space Agency's robotic "handyman" -- and Canadarm2 take a "rest" after completing a task 225 miles above the home planet.  Image Credit: NASA

Backdropped against a cloudy portion of Earth, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator -- the Canadian Space Agency's robotic "handyman" -- and Canadarm2 take a "rest" after completing a task 225 miles above the home planet. Image Credit: NASA

Meanwhile, Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio spent much of his morning working with a European Space Agency investigation known as Threshold Acceleration for Gravisensing-2, or Gravi-2.  In this experiment, lentil seedling roots are exposed to different gravity levels through the use of a centrifuge to determine the gravitational threshold for a response from the roots through time-lapse photography and video observation. In addition to helping scientists understand the role gravity plays in plant growth and development, the research also assists in defining the role plants will play as an essential part of a bio-regenerative life-support system on future space missions.

Afterward, Wakata and Mastracchio joined Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin for a fit check of the Russian Sokol launch and entry suits they will wear during the journey home next week after six months in space. The trio is scheduled to undock from the station aboard the Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft on May 13 at 6:33 p.m. EDT for a landing in the steppe of Kazakhstan at 9:57 p.m. (7:57 a.m. Kazakh time on May 14).

The three later checked out the protective Kentavr garments they will wear under their Sokol suits during the trip back to Earth to ease the transition back into the full-force of Earth’s gravity.

Tyurin also pre-packed items for return to Earth aboard the Soyuz and participated in Lower Body Negative Pressure training. The veteran cosmonaut donned a special outfit that simulates the effects of gravity by drawing fluids to the lower half of the body. In addition to conditioning cosmonauts for the return home, this device provides Russian researchers with data to predict how the cosmonauts will react to the full force of Earth’s gravity at the end of their mission.

Wakata rounded out his afternoon packing cargo inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft for return to Earth.  Dragon, which delivered 2.5 tons of cargo to the station on April 20, is set to depart the station on May 18 for a splashdown and recovery in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California.

Flight Engineer Steve Swanson configured the Light Microscopy Module (LMM) inside the Fluids Integrated Rack for the Petri Plant experiment.  The LMM is a state-of-the-art light imaging microscope facility that provides researchers with powerful diagnostic hardware and software onboard the station.

Swanson later swapped out a sample for the Advanced Plant EXperiments-2, or APEX-2, to help scientists identify the signaling pathways and molecular activity involved as cells adapt to microgravity.

On the Russian side of the complex, Flight Engineers Oleg Artemyev and Alexander Skvortsov continued unloading cargo from the ISS Progress 55 cargo ship docked to the Pirs docking compartment.

Artemyev also performed the Uragan Earth-observation experiment, which seeks to document and predict the development of natural and man-made disasters on Earth. He also assisted Skvortsov with the Motocard study, which examines how long-duration spaceflight affects a cosmonaut’s gait and ability to walk or run. Results from Motocard will help specialists design better training systems for future station residents.

While the Expedition 39 crew worked inside the orbiting complex, the robotics team at Houston’s Mission Control Center went back to work to begin anew several days of robotic operations to remove the Optical PAyload for Lasercomm Science, or OPALS, from the trunk of the Dragon cargo ship and install it on the Express Logistics Carrier-1 depot at the end of the station’s port truss. The first attempt on Thursday was unsuccessful due to a problem gripping the payload’s grapple fixture with the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator, or Dextre, at the end of the 57-foot Canadarm2.

With the problem identified by the ground teams and a new software patch uploaded, the robotics team successfully removed OPALS from Dragon’s trunk. On Tuesday, the team will relocate the arm to set it up for the installation of OPALS on Wednesday.

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