It’s time to come home! Expedition 39 astronauts Rick Mastracchio, Koichi Wakata and Mikhail Tyurin will climb into a Russian Soyuz spacecraft later today to make the trip back to Earth from the International Space Station. Much of the activity will play out on NASA TV, which you can watch above. Below are details about when to watch.
These are the descriptions from NASA about when the major events of the day occur. Bear in mind that all of these times are subject to change as circumstances warrant.
3 p.m. EDT / 7 p.m. UTC — Farewells and hatch closure (hatch closure scheduled at 3:15 p.m. / 7:15 p.m. UTC )
6:15 p.m. EDT / 10:15 p.m. UTC — Undocking (undocking scheduled at 6:33 p.m. / 10:33 p.m. UTC)
8:45 p.m. EDT / 12:45 a.m. UTC — Deorbit burn and landing (deorbit burn scheduled at 9:03 p.m. EDT /1:03 a.m. UTC landing scheduled at 9:57 p.m. EDT / 1:57 a.m. UTC)
The crew is expected to land near Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. After doing some quick medical checks on site, the crew will be flown out separately to do more detailed testing at their local medical centers.
With Wakata flying home, the station is now under the command of Expedition 40 NASA astronaut Steve Swanson, who will oversee activities there along with Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev. The rest of the Expedition 40 crew should fly to station May 28, if all goes to plan.
To close out their final week aboard the International Space Station, three of the six Expedition 39 crew members are completing their unloading tasks inside the docked commercial SpaceXDragon cargo freighter and other duties while teams at Mission Control in Houston conduct delicate robotics work outside with dazzling maneuvers of the Dextre robot to remove the last external experiment from the vessels storage truck.
See a dazzling gallery of photos of Dextre dangling outside the docked Dragon depot – above and below.
On Monday, May 5, the robotics team at NASA Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center in Houston carefully guided Canada’s Dextre robotic “handyman” attached to the end of the 57-foot long Canadarm2 to basically dig out the final payload item housed in the unpressurized trunk section at the rear of the SpaceX Dragon cargo vessel docked to the ISS.
Dextre stands for “Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator” and was contributed to the station by the Canadian Space Agency. It measures 12 feet tall and is outfitted with a pair of arms and an array of finely detailed tools to carry out intricate and complex tasks that would otherwise require spacewalking astronauts.
The massive orbiting outpost was soaring some 225 miles above the home planet as Dextre’s work was in progress to remove the Optical PAyload for Lasercomm Science, or OPALS, from the Dragon’s truck.
The next step is to install OPALS on the Express Logistics Carrier-1 (ELC-1) depot at the end of the station’s port truss on Wednesday.
Monday’s attempt was the second try at grappling OPALS. The initial attempt last Thursday “was unsuccessful due to a problem gripping the payload’s grapple fixture with the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator, or Dextre,” NASA reported.
This unmanned Dragon delivered about 4600 pounds of cargo to the ISS including over 150 science experiments, a pair of hi tech legs for Robonaut 2, a high definition Earth observing imaging camera suite (HDEV), the laser optical communications experiment (OPALS), the VEGGIE lettuce growing experiment as well as essential gear, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard in low Earth orbit, under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.
OPALS uses laser light instead of radio waves to beam back precisely guided data packages to ground stations. The use of lasers should greatly increase the amount of information transmitted over the same period of time, says NASA.
The science experiments carried aboard Dragon are intended for research to be conducted by the crews of ISS Expeditions 39 and 40.
Robotics teams had already pulled out the other payload item from the truck, namely the HDEV imaging suite. It is already transmitting back breathtaking real time video views of Earth from a quartet of video cameras pointing in different directions mounted on the stations exterior.
The SpaceX CRS-3 mission marks the company’s third resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.
After spending six months in space, Station Commander Koichi Wakata from Japan as well as NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin will be departing the station in a week aboard their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft on May 13 at 6:33 p.m. EDT.
They are scheduled to land some 3.5 hours later in the steppes of Kazakhstan at 9:57 p.m. (7:57 a.m. Kazakh time on May 14). The events will be carried live on NASA TV.
To prepare for the journey home, the trio also completed fit checks on their Russian Sokol launch and entry suits on Monday.
Meanwhile Dragon is also set to depart the station soon on May 18 for a parachute assisted splashdown and recovery by boats in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California.
Dragon has been docked to the station since arriving on Easter Sunday morning, April 20.
It was grappled using Canadarm 2 and berthed at the Earth facing port of the Harmony module by Commander Wakata and flight engineer Mastracchio while working at the robotics work station inside the seven windowed domed Cupola module.
For the return trip, the Expedition 39 crew is also loading Dragon with precious science samples collected over many months from the crews research activities as well as trash and no longer needed items.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.
UPDATE, 11:42 a.m. EDT: Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson finished their spacewalk in just 1 hour and 36 minutes, nearly an hour faster than what NASA budgeted for. Early tests show the replacement computer is working well, providing backup once again for the robotics, solar arrays and other systems on station.
Can two astronauts fix a broken computer quickly on the International Space Station, preventing possible problems with the solar arrays and robotics? Watch live (above) to find out.
The NASA spacewalk involving Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson is scheduled to start today (April 23) at 9:20 a.m. EDT (1:20 p.m. UTC), with coverage starting around 8:30 a.m. EDT (12:30 p.m. UTC). The spacewalk is scheduled to last 2.5 hours. Bear in mind that the times could change as circumstances arise.
The computer, also called a multiplexer/demultiplexer (MDM), failed for unknown reasons a couple of weeks ago. While the primary computer is working perfectly and the crew is in no danger, things get more risky if the primary computer also breaks. That’s why NASA worked to get the spacewalkers outside as quickly as possible. You can see a full briefing of the rationale here.
As a note, all non-urgent spacewalks have been suspended because NASA is still working on addressing the recommendations given after a life-threatening water leak took place in a NASA spacesuit last summer. Urgent spacewalks can still go ahead because the agency has implemented safety measures such as snorkels and helmet absorption pads in case of another leak.
It’s a good thing that next week’s urgent spacewalk is pegged as a short one, because the coming days will be hectic for the Expedition 39 crew.
Finding a spot for even a 2.5-hour excursion on the International Space Station was extremely challenging, NASA officials said in a news conference today (April 18), because crew time also is needed for two cargo spacecraft: the SpaceX Dragon launch scheduled for today and subsequent Progress undocking/redocking on station.
Here’s a rundown of some things NASA was juggling as it moves hastily to replace a failed backup computer on the outside of the station. Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson are expected to go “outside” on Wednesday (April 23), but if today’s SpaceX launch is delayed the spacewalk will be moved up to Sunday (April 20).
Why it’s urgent
The U.S. portion of the station has 46 computers, with 24 of them external. The multiplexer/demultiplexer or MDM (one of two) controls 12 of these external computers and is responsible for everything for how the solar arrays are pointed to how some robotics operate. It should be noted here that the primary MDM is working just fine, but if it fails with no backup, there will be problems. NASA will lose telemetry or data from the external ammonia cooling systems operating on station (although the systems themselves will work automatically). Some redundant equipment can’t be turned on, either. The agency also won’t be able to point the solar arrays to get power or to move them aside when spacecraft come in, to protect the arrays from thruster plumes (although further below you can see some backups they have for the array problems.)
Fixing the spacesuits
Since last summer’s life-threatening water leak, NASA has been moving quickly to fix the spacesuits it has. All non-urgent spacewalks are off the table until at least this summer while NASA addresses a panel’s recommendations to fix the problem. A faulty fan pump separator was swapped out on the bad suit (Suit 3011) last December, but two spacesuits still needed to be fixed on station. The crew spent much of the past week changing out a fan pump separator on Suit 3005 (which will also be used in the spacewalk) and flushing out the cooling lines in the suit and on station, since contamination is believed to have led to the failure. (More parts will arrive on Dragon, but they won’t be used this time, NASA has determined.)
Spacewalk preps on the ground
Also today, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy was in “the pool” (at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory) simulating the spacewalk. He’s part of a team working to see what could go wrong on the spacewalk and come up with procedures dealing with that. “As best we can we have all those answers in our hip pockets so as they get thrown out on the game day, we can give the crew a quick answer,” he said in an interview Wednesday (April 16) on NASA TV.
Preparing the new computer
A spare MDM is inside the station, but it was an older model that needed to be reconfigured. Astronauts changed out a processing card and did other hardware/software changes to prepare the MDM to sit outside of the station. They also thoroughly tested it to make sure it’s working before mounting it outside. As a point of interest, no one yet knows why the backup MDM failed, but astronauts will inspect the site for damage (and take pictures). It’s expected that once they bring the broken MDM inside, any failed cards will be swapped out and sent to the ground sometime for analysis. The MDM itself will stay on station to be used again, as needs arise.
SpaceX’s Dragon is a cargo spacecraft controlled by the ground, but the astronauts need to be ready to nab it with the robotic Canadarm2 once it arrives (now scheduled for Sunday, April 20). The crew has their normal amount of training and preparation for the procedures, then the time it takes to capture the spacecraft, and then the time to unload the vehicle (which is somewhat urgent as there are certain research experiments that need to come off fairly quickly, NASA said.)
Moving the solar array
NASA not only needs to have the solar arrays out of the way from thruster plumes from Dragon and Progress, but it also needs to keep power to the station and configure the arrays so that if the other MDM fails, the arrays will automatically be placed in a safe spot. The array would autotrack for 24 hours after the MDM fails, then go to a “preset angle” that NASA carefully chose. As for whether there would be power shortages on station, NASA says it depends on the sun’s angle and what needs to be done on station at a particular time.
Unless otherwise noted, information in this article is based on comments from the following officials in today’s NASA news conference: Mike Suffredini, International Space Station program manager; Brian Smith, International Space Station flight director and Glenda Brown, lead spacewalk officer.
And now, time for some thrilling heroics. NASA astronaut Steve Swanson sent out the first Instagram from space last week wearing none other than a Firefly T-shirt. There’s something to be said about a space-faring guy evoking images of Captain Mal doing the impossible in the plucky Serenity spaceship, isn’t there?
We’re happy the epicness did not break NASA’s Instagram feed, as Swanson has been sending out pictures regularly since then showing the view from orbit (he joked about wanting a vacation at one point) as well as another selfie. You can check out the magic below, and follow the rest on NASA’s Instagram feed. We’ve copied and pasted Swanson’s captions below each image.
During Swanson’s first mission to space in 2007, STS-117, he brought with him the DVD set of Firefly and its movie spinoff, Serenity, and left it on the International Space Station library, according to collectSPACE.
Oh, and social media from space is also being covered on Twitter, via Expedition 39 NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata, from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
“The Turks and Caicos islands – I think I need to go there after this mission.” – Swanny #exp39 #earth #iss #international #space #station #nasa #vacation #earthrightnow
“Blood, sweat, but hopefully no tears.” – Swanny #nasa #iss #exp39 #international #space #station #blood #sweat #tears #medical
“Cape Canaveral – looking forward to when the US launches out of here again.” – Swanny #iss #exp39 #earth #florida #capecanaveral #international #space #station #launch #atlantic #coast #nasa
As contingency spacewalks go, the urgent task should be easy: a quick 2.5-hour run to swap out a failed backup computer that controls several systems on the International Space Station, including robotics. But NASA doesn’t want to go ahead with it until spare spacesuit parts arrive, in the aftermath of a life-threatening suit leak that took place last summer.
Those parts are on board the much-delayed SpaceX Dragon spacecraft sitting on a launch pad waiting for its next window to open. For this and other reasons, NASA decided to move ahead with the launch as planned Monday at 4:58 p.m. EDT (8:58 p.m. UTC). The spacewalk would take place April 22 — if Dragon gets there as planned on Wednesday.
“We need to get it [Dragon] on board as soon as we practically can,” said Mike Suffredini, the International Space Station’s program manager, in a phone briefing with reporters Sunday (April 13). That’s because Dragon is carrying a new spacesuit, components to fix an existing spacesuit, critical research experiments and food for the six crew members of Expedition 39.
The challenge, however, is making sure the station could be ready even if the primary multiplexer demultiplexer (MDM) fails before spacewalkers can make the backup replacement. There are more than a dozen MDMs on station, but each one controls different functions. This primary MDM not only controls a robotics mobile transporter, but also radiators and a joint to move the station’s solar arrays, among other things. The computer sits on the S0 truss on station, which you can view in the diagram below.
“The biggest driver for us is the positioning of the solar arrays as we look to the next failure,” Suffredini said. NASA needs to reposition the arrays when a vehicle approaches because plumes from the thrusters can put extra “loads” or electrical power on the system.
At the same time, enough power must flow to the station for it to operate. Luckily, the angle of the sun is such these days that the array can sit in the same spot for a while, at least two to three weeks, Suffredini said. NASA configured the station so that even if the primary computer fails, the array will automatically position correctly.
NASA also will move a mobile transporter on station today so that the station’s robotic arm is ready to grasp the Dragon when it arrives, meaning that even if the primary computer fails the transporter will be in the right spot. If Dragon is delayed again, the next launch opportunity is April 18 and the spacewalk would be pushed back.
Dragon’s precious payload of items includes several intended to make NASA spacewalks safer. The suit leak was due to contamination in the fan pump separator of Suit 3011 that plugged a tiny hole inside the water separation part of the unit. Water then escaped and got into the helmet, causing a near-emergency for Luca Parmitano — who was using the spacesuit in July.
NASA installed snorkels and absorbent helmet pads into its spacesuits while awaiting the results of an investigation, and also pushing back all nonessential spacewalks. The agency now has recommendations in hand and is addressing those with the hope of resuming non-contingency spacewalks this summer.
Today, Suffredini also provided an update on what the contamination was. “The anomaly was the result of contamination introduced by filters essentially used to clean and scrub the water loops for us,” he said.
“Those introduced large amounts of silica into the system, and that silica eventually coagulates in the area of the fan pump sep [separator] and after many uses, it eventually can build up to the point where it plugs the holes and you can’t separate the water from the air.”
The next spacewalk will use Suit 3011 (which got a new fan pump separator for contingency spacewalks in December) and Suit 3005, which will use the new separator on board Dragon. The cooling lines on spacesuits on board station have been purged with fresh water to reduce the silica buildup, and astronauts will use new filters that they know are clean.
If for some reason Suit 3005 can’t be used, Suffredini added, the new suit could be put in place instead after some testing to make sure it’s ready. “We’re in a very good posture for the EVA [extra-vehicular activity],” Suffredini said.
NASA hasn’t decided who will go on the spacewalks yet, he added. There are at least two or three spare MDMs on station; the one needed for this particular spacewalk is inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory, which is handily right next to the S0 truss and spacesuit worksite.
Of the “big 12” repair jobs the astronauts train for, the MDM replacement is among the easiest, Suffredini said, adding astronauts never encountered an external MDM failure on station before.
The last set of contingency spacewalks took place in December to replace a failed ammonia pump that affected science experiments on station. Expedition 39’s Rick Mastracchio was among the pair “outside” during those spacewalks.
We will keep you apprised as circumstances warrant.
NASA is preparing a contingency spacewalk to deal with a broken backup computer component on the International Space Station, the agency said in an update Saturday (April 12). While there’s no timeline yet for the spacewalk, the agency must consider carefully when to do it given a cargo ship is supposed to arrive at station on Wednesday.
The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft — already delayed due to an unrelated radar problem — is still scheduled to launch Monday at 4:58 p.m. EDT (8:58 p.m. UTC) to arrive at station two days later. Although the computer controls some robotic systems, NASA added the Canadarm2 that will grapple Dragon has other redundancies in place. The question is if the station itself has enough redundancy for the launch to go forward.
“A final decision on whether to launch Dragon Monday will not be made until another status meeting is conducted Sunday morning,” NASA stated.
The failure poses no risk to the crew and normal station operations are not affected, NASA emphasized. The failure was uncovered Friday “during a routine health check” of a box called EXT-2, which backs up a primary component that sits outside on the S0 truss (near the station’s center).
Earlier Saturday, a docked Progress robotic spacecraft boosted the station’s altitude in a planned maneuver to ready for the next Soyuz spacecraft launch, which will carry half of the Expedition 40 crew in May.
If spacewalks do go forward, this would be the second required contingency set required since Luca Parmitano experienced a life-threatening leak in a NASA spacesuit last July. NASA ordered an investigation, received a report in February and has halted all nonessential spacewalks while it addresses the recommendations. (Russian spacewalks in Orlan spacesuits are unaffected.)
The only NASA spacewalks that happened since summer took place in December, when an ammonia pump failure crippled science experiments on station. NASA’s Rick Mastracchio and his now returned-to-Earth crewmate Mike Hopkins performed two contingency spacewalks, successfully replacing the pump. The agency has snorkels and absorbent pads ready for its spacesuits as backup if another leak occurs.
A backup computer that controls “some systems associated with robotics” on the International Space Station is not “responding to commands”, NASA said in a late-night statement Eastern time Friday (April 11).
The crew is safe, there’s no “immediate” change to space station operations, and because the primary computer is working, there’s also no alteration to the SpaceX Dragon launch to the station on Monday — which requires the robotic Canadarm2 for berthing. NASA added, however, that there are “further evaluations” going on, meaning the date could change depending on what controllers figure out.
If the computer does need to be replaced, crew members of Expedition 39 will need to do at least one spacewalk, the agency added. NASA is allowing contingency spacewalks in American spacesuits to go forward as the agency addresses problems raised in a report about a life-threatening spacesuit leak in July.
Below the jump is the statement NASA put out tonight concerning the situation.
The Mission Control team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston confirmed Friday night that a backup computer on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS) called a Multiplexer-Demultiplexer (MDM) is not responding to commands. The station’s MDM computers control some systems associated with robotics aboard the space station.
The primary MDM operating aboard the space station is functioning normally and there is no immediate impact to space station operations. The computer outage does not pose a risk to the six crew members aboard the space station. ISS teams are assessing next steps to attempt to bring the computer back online or replace it.
Replacing the backup MDM, if needed, would require a spacewalk. The backup MDM would provide redundancy for robotic systems that will be needed to attach the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft currently scheduled to launch on Monday and rendezvous with the ISS on Wednesday. NASA is continuing to work toward a Monday launch of the SpaceX cargo resupply mission pending further evaluations by the ISS Program. The latest information will be available here at www.nasa.gov/station.
We will keep you apprised as the situation progresses.
Update, 8:33 p.m. EDT: The Soyuz spacecraft arrived safely at station at 7:53 p.m. EDT (11:53 a.m. UTC) and coverage of the hatch opening is scheduled at 10:15 p.m. EDT (2:15 a.m. UTC).
After spending an extra couple of days in the cramped Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the incoming International Space Station crew will likely be very be glad to get out and stretch their legs. You can check out the festivities live in the video link above.
Three people are set to make a docking with the orbiting complex at 7:58 p.m. EDT (11:58 p.m. UTC). If all goes to schedule, they’ll pop the hatch open at 10:40 p.m. EDT (2:40 a.m. UTC). Meanwhile, engineers are trying to figure out what caused the malfunction that prevented a docking as planned on Tuesday (March 25).
Remember that all schedules are subject to change, so tune into NASA TV well before each event happens.
The Expedition 39/40 crew lifted off Tuesday afternoon (EDT) from Kazakhstan to take a fast track to the space station that should have seen them dock on launch day. The Soyuz has to make three engine firings or burns to accomplish this. The docking was cancelled after the third burn did not happen as planned. The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) has determined this was because the spacecraft was in the wrong orientation, but the underlying cause is still being investigated.
Once this happened, the crew switched to a standard backup procedure to bring them to the station in two days instead. (This path, in fact, was what all crews did up until last year.) The crew is safe and in good spirits heading up to the docking, NASA has said. The Soyuz has done several other engine firings since, with no incident.
The Soyuz crew includes Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos). Awaiting them on the station are Koichi Wakata (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), Rick Mastracchio (NASA) and Mikhail Tyurin (Roscosmos). Wakata is in command of the station, marking a first for Japan’s astronaut corps.
The crew was originally expected to dock with the station around 11 p.m. EDT (3 a.m. UTC), but an error with the spacecraft’s position in space prevented the engines from doing a third planned “burn” or firing to make that possible, NASA said in an update.
“At this point, the crew is in good shape and the vehicle appears to be in good shape,” said Kenny Todd, the space station’s operations integration manager, in an interview on NASA TV Wednesday morning (EDT). “At this point, everything looks real good.”
In fact, the spacecraft has done a couple of burns since to get it into the right spot for a docking Thursday evening, Todd added. (So it appears the crew just missed the window to get there on Tuesday night.) The underlying cause of the orientation problem was not mentioned in the interview, presumably because it’s still being investigated.
NASA is quite familiar with a two-day route to the space station as up until last year, all crews took two days to get to the space station. This took place for 14 years until a rapider method of reaching the orbiting complex within hours was introduced.
The crew includes Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos), who will join three people already on station when they arrive.
Current station residents Koichi Wakata (the commander, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), Rick Mastracchio (NASA) and Mikhail Tyurin (Roscosmos) got to sleep in this morning and had some minor modifications to their schedule because of the docking delay, Todd added.
Instead of taking the day off as planned, the crew will do some work. A planned ISS software update for last night is going to be pushed “down the line”, Todd said, adding that the forthcoming SpaceX launch on Sunday and docking on Tuesday is still going ahead as planned.
We’ll provide more updates as the situation progresses. Docking is scheduled for 7:58 p.m. EDT (11:58 p.m. UTC) Thursday and will be covered on NASA Television.