Space Station Trio Touches Down on Earth as NASA’s Next Cargo Ship Targets Apr. 18 Blastoff

Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and Flight Engineers Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, touched down southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan at 7:20 a.m. EDT April 10, 2017 in their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Comings and goings continue apace on the International Space Station! After living and working fruitfully for six months in space aboard the ISS, an international trio of astronauts and cosmonauts including NASA’s Shane Kimbrough departed the orbiting lab complex aboard their Soyuz capsule and plummeted back safely through the Earth’s atmosphere to a soft touchdown in Kazahkstan on Monday- as NASA meanwhile targets liftoff of the next US resupply ship a week from today.

These are busy times indeed with regular flights to low Earth orbit and back to maintain and enhance the scientific research aboard the multinationally built and funded million pound orbiting outpost.

ISS Expedition 50 came to a glorious end for Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Flight Engineers Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos as they returned to Earth Monday, April 10 in Kazakhstan aboard their Soyuz spacecraft after spending 173 days aloft in the weightless environment of space.

With his return to Earth April 10, 2017, from a mission aboard the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough now has spent 189 days in space on two flights. Credits: NASA TV

The Russian Soyuz MS-02 capsule touched down safely by making a parachute assisted landing in Kazakhstan at approximately 7:20 a.m. EDT (5:20 p.m. Kazakhstan time).

The three person crew comprising Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko landed southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile as the trio were landing, NASA is targeting launch of the next commercial cargo ship for blastoff on April 18 with more than three tons of science and supplies to stock the station for the Expedition 51 crew.

Christened the ‘S.S. John Glenn’ to honor legendary NASA astronaut John Glenn – the first American to orbit the Earth back in February 1962 – the next Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship heading to the space station will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Liftoff of the S.S. John Glenn from NASA commercial cargo provider Orbital ATK on their seventh commercial resupply services mission to the ISS is slated for 11 a.m. EDT Tuesday, April 18.

John Glenn was selected as one of NASA’s original seven Mercury astronauts chosen at the dawn of the space age in 1959. He recently passed away on December 8, 2016 at age 95.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft named for Sen. John Glenn, one of NASA’s original seven astronauts, stands inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida behind a sign commemorating Glenn on March 9, 2017. Launch slated for April 18, 2017 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

During their time in orbit, the Expedition 50 crew members contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science aboard the world-class orbiting laboratory.

“For example, the Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells investigation had crew members observe cell growth and other characteristics in microgravity. Results from this investigation could lead to the treatment of diseases and injury in space, and provide a way to improve stem cell production for medical therapies on Earth,” said NASA.

“The Tissue Regeneration-Bone Defect study, a U.S. National Laboratory investigation sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, studied what prevents vertebrates, such as rodents and humans, from regenerating lost bone and tissue, and how microgravity conditions impact the process. Results will provide a new understanding of the biological reasons behind a human’s inability to regrow a lost limb at the wound site, and could lead to new treatment options for the more than 30 percent of the patient population who do not respond to current options for chronic, non-healing wounds.”

The Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft is seen as it lands with Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Flight Engineers Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Monday, April 10, 2017 (Kazakh time). Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko served as members of the Expedition 49 and 50 crews onboard the International Space Station during their 173 days in orbit.

During two flights Kimbrough has now amassed 189 days in space. During his two flights Borisenko now totals 337 days in space. Rookie Ryzhikov logged 173 days in space.

They leave behind another trio of crewmates who will continue as Expedition 51; namely NASA astronaut and new station commander Peggy Whitson, Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency).

The next manned Soyuz launch will carry just two crewmembers. Due to Russian funding cutbacks only 1 cosmonaut will launch. The crew comprises Jack Fischer of NASA and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos. They are scheduled to launch Thursday, April 20 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Merry Christmas From Space 2016

All six members of the Expedition 50 crew aboard the International Space Station celebrated the holidays together with a festive meal on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2016  Image Credit: NASA
All six members of the Expedition 50 crew aboard the International Space Station celebrated the holidays together with a festive meal on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2016. Image Credit: NASA

As we celebrate the Christmas tidings of 2016 here on Earth, a lucky multinational crew of astronauts and cosmonauts celebrate the festive season floating in Zero-G while living and working together in space aboard the Earth orbiting International Space Station (ISS) complex – peacefully cooperating to benefit all humanity.

Today, Dec. 25, 2016, the six person Expedition 50 crew of five men and one woman marked the joyous holiday of Christ’s birth by gathering for a festive meal in space – as billions of Earthlings celebrated this Christmas season of giving, remembrance and peace to all here on our home planet.

This year is an especially noteworthy Space Christmas because it counts as Expedition 50. This is the 50th crew to reside on board since the space station began operating with permanent occupancy by rotating crews all the way back to 1998.

The Expedition 50 crew currently comprises of people from three nations supporting the ISS – namely the US, Russia and France; Commander Shane Kimbrough from NASA and flight engineers Andrey Borisenko (Roscosmos), Sergey Ryzhikov (Roscosmos), Thomas Pesquet (ESA), Peggy Whitson (NASA), and Oleg Novitskiy (Roscosmos).

Here a short video of holiday greetings from a trio of crew members explaining what Christmas in Space means to them:

Video Caption: Space Station Crew Celebrates the Holidays Aboard the Orbital Lab. Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency discussed their thoughts about being in space during the holidays and how they plan to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s in a downlink. Credit: NASA

“Hello from the Expedition 50 Crew! We’d like to share what Christmas means to us,” said Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough.

“For me it’s a lot about family,” said Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough. “We always travel to meet up with our family which is dispersed across the country. And we go home to Georgia and Florida … quite abit to meet up. Always a great time to get together and share with each other.”

“Although its typically thought of a season to get things, we in our family think about the giving aspect. Giving of our many talents and resources. Especially to those less fortunate.”

Kimbrough arrived on the complex in October, followed a month later by Whitson and Pesquet in November.

They were all launched aboard Russian Soyuz capsules from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA sent holiday greetings and festive imagery from the cupola on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: NASA.
Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA sent holiday greetings and festive imagery from the cupola on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: NASA.

And Peggy Whitson especially has a lot to celebrate in space!

Because not only is Whitson currently enjoying her third long-duration flight aboard the station – as an Expedition 50 flight engineer. Soon she will become the first woman to command the station twice ! That momentous event happens when she assumes the role of Space Station Commander early in 2017 during the start of Expedition 51.

“In addition to family, there is another very important aspect to being on the ISS,” said Whitson.

“That is seeing the planet as a whole. It actually reinforces I think, that fact that we should live as one people and strive for peace.”

“I second the comments already made. I grew up in a family of 25 cousins,” said ESA’s Thomas Pesquet. “The only time we could catch up was around Christmas time…. So I always looked forward to that, although this year I can’t be with them of course … and will think of them.”

“I am making the most of this opportunity to look at the Earth. Reflect about what Christmas means to us as individuals and to the world in general. And we will have a good time on board the ISS and share a Christmas meal together.”

Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA sent holiday greetings and festive imagery from the Japanese Kibo laboratory module on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: NASA
Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA sent holiday greetings and festive imagery from the Japanese Kibo laboratory module on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: NASA

The crew is enjoying a light weekend of work and a day off tomorrow, Dec. 26.

After that they begin preparing for a pair of spacewalks in the new year by Kimbrough and Whitson – scheduled for Jan. 6 and 13. The crew is checking the spacesuits by testing the water among other activities.

The goal of the excursions is to “complete the replacement of old nickel-hydrogen batteries with new lithium-ion batteries on the station’s truss structure,” says NASA.

Research work also continues.

“Whitson, who is spending her second Christmas in space, and Pesquet drew blood, urine and saliva samples for the Fluid Shifts study. That experiment investigates the upward flow of body fluids in space potentially causing lasting vision changes in astronauts.”

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson floats through the Unity module aboard the International Space Station. On her third long-duration flight aboard the station, Whitson will become the first woman to command the station twice when she assumes the role during Expedition 51. Credit: NASA

Among other activities, the crew is also unloading 4.5 tons of internal and external cargo, gear and fresh food – including six lithium-ion batteries – from Japan’s sixth H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-6), which recently arrived at the ISS on Dec 13.

The next regular US cargo delivery is likely to be in March 2017, when an unmanned Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo freighter is slated to launch on a ULA Atlas V from Cape Canaveral. A Cygnus was also launched on a ULA Atlas V in March 2016.

A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX also hopes to resume Dragon cargo launches sometime in the new year after they resolve the issues that led to the destruction of a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sept. 1 during fueling operations at pad 40 on the Cape.

Meanwhile Roscosmos continues to investigate the causes of the failed launch of the unmanned Russian Progress 65 resupply ship on Dec. 1 due to a 3rd stage anomaly.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer