Watch Live As Three People Return From Space Today

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.

UPDATE: Spacewalkers Zip Through Tasks To Fix Broken Computer

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.

That said, in the months since NASA has traced the problem to contamination in a filter in the fan pump separator. After replacing the separator, the leaky spacesuit was used during two contingency spacewalks in December with no water problems at all.

Urgent Spacewalk Must Dance Between Dragon and Progress Spacecraft

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.)

NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins during a contingency spacewalk in December 2013 to replace a faulty ammonia pump. Hopkins was part of Expedition 37/38. Credit: NASA
NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins during a contingency spacewalk in December 2013 to replace a faulty ammonia pump. Hopkins was part of Expedition 37/38. Credit: NASA

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 spacecraft berthed to the International Space Station during Expedition 33 in October 2012. Credit: NASA
SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft berthed to the International Space Station during Expedition 33 in October 2012. Credit: NASA

Grappling Dragon

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.

Moving the Progress spacecraft

Russian cargo ship Progress 53 is supposed to undock from the Zvezda service module on Wednesday (April 23) to test an automated rendezvous system that controls approaches to station. Then it’s docking again on Friday (April 25).

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.

Shiny: Astronaut Wears ‘Firefly’ T-Shirt In First Instagram From Space

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

“The Maldive Islands” – Swanny #exp39 #iss #international #space #station #earth #earthrightnow #maldives #island

“The Northern Lights, while over Europe.” – Swanny #exp39  #nasa  #iss  #international  #space  #station #earth  #europe  #night  #aurora

Contingency Spacewalk Planned Next Week, But Dragon Must Arrive At Space Station First

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.

A diagram of the truss segments on the International Space Station. Click for a larger version. Screenshot of p. 3 of this PDF document: http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/167129main_Systems.pdf. Credit: NASA
A diagram of the truss segments on the International Space Station. Click for a larger version. Screenshot of p. 3 of this PDF document: http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/167129main_Systems.pdf. Credit: NASA

“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.

European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano on a spacewalk July 9, 2016 during Expedition 36. Here, Parmitano is riding the end of the robotic Canadarm2. Credit: NASA
European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano on a spacewalk July 9, 2016 during Expedition 36. Here, Parmitano is riding the end of the robotic Canadarm2. Credit: NASA

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.

Expedition 15's Clay Anderson (on Canadarm2) and STS-118's Rick Mastracchio (right) during an August 2007 maintenance spacewalk on the International Space Station. The NASA astronauts relocated an S-Band antenna subassembly, installed a new transponder and retrieved another transponder. Credit: NASA
Expedition 15’s Clay Anderson (on Canadarm2) and STS-118’s Rick Mastracchio (right) during an August 2007 maintenance spacewalk on the International Space Station. The NASA astronauts relocated an S-Band antenna subassembly, installed a new transponder and retrieved another transponder. Credit: NASA

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.

Event Alert: Watch Space Station Hatch Opening Live Tonight

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.

Astronauts ‘In Good Shape’ As They Face Space Station Docking Delay

Despite a problem that held up last night’s International Space Station docking, the Expedition 39/40 crew is doing well as they execute a standard backup procedure to bring their Soyuz spacecraft to the station on Thursday, NASA said.

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.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata plays around wiith humanoid robot Robonaut 2 during Expedition 39 in March 2014. Credit: NASA
Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata plays around wiith humanoid robot Robonaut 2 during Expedition 39 in March 2014. Credit: NASA

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.

Seen From Space! Crew’s Rocket Launch Spotted By NASA Astronaut In Orbit

Seriously, how cool is this picture? The International Space Station crew caught an incredible view of their three future crewmates rocketing up to meet them today around 5:17 p.m. EDT (9:17 p.m. UTC).

Expedition 39’s Rick Mastracchio (from NASA) shared this on Twitter, casually mentioning that he will expect more crewmates to arrive later today. Upon the rocket were Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos).

Check out the launch video and some NASA pictures of the activities below the jump. (Update, 10:21 p.m. EDT: One of the engine firings did not take place as planned, meaning the astronauts will not dock with the station as planned tonight. The crew is safe and doing a standard backup plan that will bring them to the station on Thursday. We will provide updates as the situation progresses.)

 

 

 

 

 

When Doves Fly: Swarm Of Tiny Satellites Shot From Space Station

Astronauts fired up the International Space Station’s Yard-a-Pult (actually, we mean the Japanese Kibo arm’s satellite launcher) this week to send out a flock of Doves or tiny satellites that take pictures of the Earth below. An incredible 28 satellites from Planet Labs of San Francisco are expected to swarm into orbit — the largest fleet yet, NASA says — but there have been delays in launching some of them.

The aim? To provide Earth observation information for any purpose that is needed, whether it’s disaster relief or looking to learn more about the Earth’s environment. Planet Labs and NASA say that commercial applications could include real estate, mapping, construction and oil and gas monitoring.

Deployments of two satellites each began on Tuesday and Wednesday, but NASA noted there are “glitches” (which the agency didn’t specify) that are holding up the launch of other ones. There’s no estimated date yet for sending out the rest of the satellites.

“We believe that the democratization of information about a changing planet is the mission that we are focused on, and that, in and of itself, is going to be quite valuable for the planet,” stated Robbie Schingler, co-founder of Planet Labs.

The Japanese Kibo robotic arm on the International Space Station deploys CubeSats during February 2014. The arm was holding a Small Satellite Orbital Deployer to send out the small satellites during Expedition 38. Credit: NASA
The Japanese Kibo robotic arm on the International Space Station deploys CubeSats during February 2014. The arm was holding a Small Satellite Orbital Deployer to send out the small satellites during Expedition 38. Credit: NASA

Flock 1 is a customer of the NanoRacks CubeSats program. CubeSats are small satellites that heavily rely on computer miniaturization to do the job of Earth observation and telecommunication that previously was the province of much larger and more expensive satellites. NanoRacks provides space both inside and outside the station for research experiments.

Expedition 38’s Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata both commented on the unusual launches. “Two small satellites are deployed from our launcher here on the space station. Each a little bigger than loaf of bread,” Mastracchio tweeted, while Wakata wrote, “Congratulations on the successful deploy of the satellites by the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer and Kibo robotics!”

For more information on Flock 1, check out the Planet Labs website. You can also check out an animation of how NanoRacks CubeSats deploy in the animation below (which includes a clip from the song “We Are Young” by Fun.)

‘Stupid Astronaut Tricks’ Spread The Joy of Space To New Astronaut Class

You sure couldn’t hide those grins on television from the Astronaut Candidate Class of 2013 when the call came from the International Space Station.

NASA’s latest recruits were at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. at an event today (Thursday) for students. Amid the many youngster questions to Expedition 38 astronauts Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio, astronaut candidate Jessica Meir managed one of her own: was the wait worth it?

Hovering in front of the camera, four-time flyer Mastracchio vigorously shook his hand “no” to laughter from the audience. Hopkins answered her more seriously: “It is definitely worth it. It is the most amazing experience I think you can ever have. Floating is just truly incredible; it just never gets old.”

Minutes later, Hopkins demonstrated a “stupid astronaut trick”: doing Road Runner-style sprinting in place in mid-air. The laughing crew signed off — “So they’re floating off now?” asked event moderator and veteran astronaut Leland Melvin — and the new class had the chance to answer questions of their own.

While the class expressed effusive delight at being astronauts — they were hired last year, so the feeling is quite new to them — Meir said that there was some sadness at leaving the careers they had before. As a recent article in Air&Space Smithsonian pointed out, this class will have several years to wait for a seat into space because there aren’t robust shuttle crews of seven people going up several times a year any more. The Soyuz only carries three people at a time, and there are fewer missions that last for a longer time.

There also is some ambiguity about where the astronauts will go. The International Space Station has been extended until at least 2024, but astronaut candidate Anne McClain added today that an asteroid or Mars are other things being considered for their class. “This class is such an exciting time to be at NASA,” she said.

Other questions asked of the class at the event include who is going to go in space first, and from a wee future astronaut, which planet they’d prefer to go to. You can watch the whole broadcast on the link above.