Check out that landing mark! A Soyuz spacecraft carrying three people touched down safely in remote Kazakhstan late Sunday (EDT) and went for a brief sleigh ride in the snow, as you can see from the drag marks on the landscape.
The flawless landing included the Expedition 40/41 crew members of Reid Wiseman (NASA), Alexander Gerst (European Space Agency) and Maxim Suraev (Roscosmos), who spent 165 days in space, mainly living on the International Space Station. Check out some more landing pictures and video below.
What a view! NASA’s Reid Wiseman and Butch Wilmore spacewalked successfully yesterday (Oct. 15) for more than 6.5 hours, replacing a faulty camera as well as a broken power regulator that was reducing the amount of power available on the International Space Station. The astronauts also shifted equipment to get ready for some bigger upgrades on station to prepare for commercial spacecraft arriving in 2017.
Check out the stunning pictures from the spacewalk below.
While NASA often speaks about the power of Earth observation from the International Space Station, the picture above from one of the astronauts on board now shows something else — you can get an awesome view of the Milky Way.
With the view unobscured by the atmosphere, the picture from Expedition 41 European astronaut Alexander Gerst shows that his perch on the ISS is pretty amazing. We wonder how it compares to some of the desert or mountaintop observatories here on Earth! And there are astronomical experiments on board, such as this one that may have found dark matter.
Below we’ve handpicked some of the best recent pictures from Gerst and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, a crewmate, as they take in the wonder of our planet and the universe.
Wow! See that bright streak in the photo above? That’s a shot of the Expedition 40 crew making a flawless return from the International Space Station yesterday (Sept. 10) … a shot taken from space itself.
“Our view of the picture perfect reentry of TMA-12M,” wrote Expedition 41 astronaut Reid Wiseman, who just hours before bid farewell to Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos). The re-entry was in fact so perfect that TV cameras caught the parachute immediately after deployment, which doesn’t always happen.
As you can see in the video replay below, the Soyuz made a bulls-eye landing near Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan at 10:23 p.m. EDT (2:23 a.m. UTC). There are now only three people tending to the space station until the rest of the Expedition 41 crew launches, which is expected to happen Sept. 25.
You wanna talk about fear? This view would likely be many people’s worst nightmare — being in a spacesuit, untethered, floating away from the International Space Station and its relative safety. NASA has astronauts covered for this Gravity-type scenario, however, with a sort of jet backpack that can send astronauts back to safety.
A new video featuring European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst (also embedded below) explains the steps an astronaut would take to swing back to safety. “We actually train how to use that in the virtual reality lab,” he said shortly after the video showed an astronaut floating away.
The key lies in a system called SAFER (Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue), which Gerst has practiced on numerous times (virtually) in preparation for his flight in May, which could involve spacewalks if NASA addresses a spacesuit water leak problem in time.
“You have to train it for a while to operate and actually come back, and not miss the station and fly into the blackness of space,” Gerst said.
The Russian Orlan spacesuit (which Gerst is also trained on) does not have such a system, but Roscosmos gets around that by having a different procedure for spacewalking than the Americans. The Russians mandate a minimum of two attachment points to station at all times, whether it’s a pair of tethers or a tether and a gripped hand.
Gerst emphasizes a floating away scenario is unlikely, in either case — it would involve losing the anchor, losing the tether and also losing your grip all at the same time. While this has never actually happened, NASA did test the SAFER system in space on STS-64 in 1994 with a crew member standing by on the Canadarm robotic arm if something went wrong. In 2000, two astronauts aboard STS-92 each did a 50-foot flight with the system.
In 2006, the SAFER system got a little loose on the back of astronaut Piers Sellers, necessitating a tether fix. NASA emphasized that the system was not in danger of being lost.
You can view the section on SAFER in the video below at around 6 minutes. Gerst recorded this as a summary of his training ahead of Expedition 40/41, which lifts off in May.
Imagine that you were in the middle of a module on the International Space Station. Floating in mid-air, far from handholds or any way to propel yourself. Is there any way to get out of that situation?
The short answer is not easily, and the longer answer is it could be an effective way to trap criminals in space, joked veteran cosmonaut Maxim Suraev in a press conference today (March 18) for the upcoming Expedition 40/41 mission, which also includes rookies Alex Gerst and Reid Wiseman.
Speaking in Russian, Suraev explained that during his last 2010 mission, he had crew members set him up in the middle of the station’s Node 3. “It is true that you can twist as much as a contortionist, but you won’t be able to move because you have nothing to bear against,” he said in remarks translated into English.
That said, the ventilation system on station does tend to push objects (and people) towards the vents after a time, he observed. What if you had multiple vents set up, however?
“I thought that if ever we have a permanent human habitation in space, this would be the best way to keep a person confined — like in a prison — in the middle of the room, where he or she could not move anywhere,” Suraev continued. “Being in limbo, as you will. The only thing that is required is a large room, a person and several fans blowing in different directions to keep the person in the middle of the room. That’s scary, trust me!”
There’s no fear on Suraev’s part that it will happen with his crewmates, however. “My new crew, they’re really good guys and I’m really looking forward to being with my new crew in space, and to spend five and a half months aboard the space station,” he said in an English phone interview after the press conference. (Good news given that Suraev will assume command of Expedition 41.)
The crew (who lifts off in May) will have an action-packed mission. It will include the arrival of the last Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and — if NASA fixes on a spacesuit leak allow — two American maintenance spacewalks. There also are 162 experiments to perform (this according to Gerst) and if there’s time, checking out our home planet.
“Earth observation was not one of the primary goals that [station] was designed for,” he cautioned in a phone interview, but he added that one of its strengths is there are people on board the orbiting laboratory that can fill in the gaps for other missions.
Gerst (who was a volcano researcher before becoming an astronaut) pointed out that if a volcano erupts, a typical Earth satellite would look straight down at it. Astronauts can swing around in the Cupola and get different views quickly, which could allow scientists to measure things such as the volcano plume height.
Another example of flexibility: The Expedition 39 crew right now is (news reports say) helping out with the search for the missing Malaysian Airline Flight 370.
“We’re really good at capturing things quickly and then sending the pictures down to the ground,” Gerst said.
Wiseman, as one of the rookies on mission, says he is interested in comparing the experience to his multi-month Navy missions at sea. It’s all a matter of mindset, he said in a phone interview. He once was assigned to a naval voyage that was expected to be at sea for six months. Then they were instructed it would be 10 months, leading to fistfights and other problems on board, he recalled.
Astronauts for the forthcoming one-year mission to station, he pointed out, will launch with different expectations than someone expecting about a six-month stay. “If you know you’re up there for one year, you’re going to pace yourself for one year,” he said.
But there still will be sacrifices, as Wiseman has two daughters (five years old and eight years old). He’s asking the older child to do a bit of social media, and the younger one to draw pictures that could be included in the “care packages” astronauts receive from Earth. “It’s going to be tough not to see them on a daily basis. They grow so fast,” he said.
Other things to watch for on this mission include the arrival of the station’s first 3-D printer, setup of an alloy furnace to make new materials in microgravity, and a potential Wiseman-led “come out and wave campaign” that would encourage families to go outside and tweet about the space station as they watch it.
You can follow Expedition 40/41’s continuing adventures at Universe Today as well as on social media: @astro_reid for Wiseman, and for Gerst, @astro_alex or his Facebook page.
Facing a fire in space? It’s among the most catastrophic situations possible, according to NASA, so the agency spends a lot of time thinking of what to do. Here’s what you do with NASA training: Don a mask, grab an emergency book, and head quickly but calmly to the nearest control post to plot an attack.
This is presumably what is happening in the recent picture above, where Alexander Gerst (from the European Space Agency, on the left) and NASA’s Reid Wiseman are doing a fire drill on the ground.
Astronauts practice emergency procedures so often that their first instinct is to go to the procedures, Gerst said in a previous Universe Today interview. “They sink in and become a memorized response or a natural reaction,” he said in August. And in his case, Gerst has training from a previous career that would come in handy if a fire broke out on the International Space Station.
Gerst was a volunteer firefighter when he was attending school, and although Expedition 40/41 this year will be his first spaceflight, he’s well-used to extreme environments: he also has done science in Antarctica, where researchers are essentially responsible for themselves for months at a time.
NASA strives to make the fire training as real as possible to keep astronauts on their toes, including creative combinations of smoke machines. Gerst said the agency won’t go to extremes, however: “We don’t light our modules on fire,” he said.
Check out more about emergency training in this past Universe Today article, which also explains the difference between fighting a fire on the space station and dealing with one in a Soyuz spacecraft. Gerst and Reid (both rookie astronauts) and Russian astronaut Maxim Suraev (who was on Expeditions 21 and 22) are supposed to head into space in May.
Should an astronaut get sick on the International Space Station, that could be a bad scene given the nearest hospital requires a spaceship ride. That’s why every crew has at least two medical officers on board that can deal with some routine procedures, getting to items as complex as filling teeth, for example.
How to get that training done?
Here’s an example: above is Alexander Gerst, an astronaut with the European Space Agency, recently working with a mannequin at the Uniklinik Köln, a hospital in Cologne, Germany. The mannequin is at least as realistic as some baby dolls you can buy in stores: “it blinks, breathes and responds to injections”, ESA stated.
That’s in addition to three days Gerst spent in operating theatres, emergency and the intensive care unit at the hospital. He has about another year to do medical training before going to station for Expedition 40/41 in May 2014.
Mind you, help is also a phone call away to a ground control station, who has doctors on site. Also, there are a lot of medical doctors or similarly trained personnel that fly in space.
On board the International Space Station right now is a trained Navy SEAL, for example: Chris Cassidy. He would have been trained to treat injuries during combat. In May, he told Universe Today that he expects “muscle memory” would kick in during an emergency, whether medical or station-related:
“I think just the training that I got in the field, training in the early part of my Navy career, and during my time being an astronaut will all combine together,” he said.
“What I know from combat in the Navy, there’s a sort of calmness that comes over people who are well-trained and know what to do. Muscle memory kicks in, and it’s not until after the thing is over that you realize what you went through.”
While those who fly in space train for medical emergencies, they also serve as medical guinea pigs for ongoing experiments. Turns out microgravity simulates aging processes on Earth, so the research could have benefits on the ground in future decades. Here’s a couple of experiments happening right now on station:
Space Headaches: “Current, pre, in-flight and post-flight data via questionnaires to evaluate the prevalence and characteristics of crewmembers’ headaches in microgravity.”
Reaction Self Test: “A portable 5-minute reaction time task that will allow the crewmembers to monitor the daily effects of fatigue on performance while on board the International Space Station.”
Looking at the medical aspect alone, it’s abundantly clear why astronauts spend years in training before flying to the station. Remember, though, this is on top of other science experiments they do there, not to mention repairs, maintenance and the occasional spacewalk or catching a supply spacecraft.