Robonaut Upgrades, Spacewalk Preps & Cargo Ops for Station Crew
Spacewalk and visiting vehicle preparations, materials research, telerobotics and upgrades for the International Space Station’s mechanical crew member were the focus of the Expedition 40 crew’s workday Thursday.
Expedition 40 Commander Steve Swanson of NASA and his team of five flight engineers began the day with the usual 2 a.m. EDT reveille, followed by a daily planning conference with the international partners’ flight control centers around the world to discuss the day’s activities.
Afterward, Swanson went to work in the U.S. Destiny laboratory to begin two days of mobility upgrades for the station’s robotic crew member, Robonaut 2. Since arriving aboard the station in May 2011, Robonaut has tackled a series of increasingly complex tasks as engineers test the feasibility of a humanoid robot taking over routine and mundane chores to free up the astronauts for more critical work.
For the next phase of testing, Robonaut will be outfitted with a pair of climbing legs to enable it to move around the station. These legs, which are equipped with end effectors to allow them to grip handrails and sockets, were delivered to the station during the SpaceX-3 cargo mission in April. Swanson is installing new processors, circuit boards, cables and fans into Robonaut to pave the way for the addition of its legs at a later date.
NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman started the workday mixing some new test samples for the Canadian version of the Binary Colloidal Alloy Test, or BCAT-C1. Results from this investigation of colloids – mixtures of small particles distributed throughout a liquid – will help materials scientists to develop new consumer products with unique properties and longer shelf lives.
Wiseman later helped out European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Alexander Gerst with the stowage of trash and unneeded items inside Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo vehicle berthed at the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node.
Cygnus, which arrived on July 16 with nearly 3,300 pounds of science and supplies, will be detached from Harmony by the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm on Aug. 15 and released by the crew for a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.
Wiseman then rounded up the tools and equipment that will be used next week to remove and replace a fan pump separator in one of the U.S. spacesuits.
On the Russian side of the complex, cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev gathered spacewalking tools and hardware that they will need during their spacewalk slated for Aug. 18 and then reviewed the planned tasks during a conference with the team at the Russian Mission Control Center outside Moscow.
During the spacewalk, Skvortsov and Artemyev will exit through a hatch in the Pirs docking compartment to deploy a nanosatellite, install two experiment packages and retrieve two others. NASA Television will provide live coverage of the spacewalk beginning at 10 a.m.
Cosmonaut and future station Commander Max Suraev began the day reinstalling some communication system amplifiers in the Zvezda service module before assisting Skvortsov and Artemyev with hand ergometry assessments.
After a break for lunch, Skvortsov and Gerst teamed up for more simulator training as they prepare to watch over the automated rendezvous and docking of the ESA’s fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5).
Nicknamed the “Georges Lemaitre” in honor of the Belgian physicist and astronomer who first proposed the Big Bang theory, ATV-5 will deliver more than seven tons of scientific experiments, food and other supplies when it docks to the aft end of Zvezda on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. NASA Television coverage will begin at 8 a.m.
The “Georges Lemaitre” is scheduled to fly directly under the station Friday at a distance of a little less than four miles to test sensors and radar systems designed to provide data for European engineers’ design of future spacecraft. After the ”fly under” of the station, the ATV-5 will move in front of the station and transition above and then behind the station for the final four days of its two-week rendezvous. ATV-5 launched atop an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana, on July 29.
Taking a brief break from his work, Gerst talked with ABC News’ Gina Sunseri and Bill Harwood of CBS News during an in-flight event in the Columbus laboratory. The German astronaut discussed his work aboard the station as well as the status of ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft now in orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Afterward, Gerst remotely commanded the car-sized Eurobot rover located at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands as part of a technology demonstration known as the Multi-End-To-End Robotic Operations Network, or METERON.
This investigation serves as a precursor and proof of concept for future human exploration scenarios including immersive remote control of a robot by an astronaut in orbit around a distant target such as the moon or Mars.
With the day’s Robonaut upgrades completed, Swanson wrapped up his day with more Ocular Health exams as flight surgeons keep close track on any changes in the crew’s eyesight.
NASA recently identified that some astronauts experience changes in their vision, which might be related to effects of microgravity on the cardiovascular system as the body’s fluids tend to move toward the upper body and head and cause the pressure in the skull to rise. With assistance from the Ocular Health team on the ground, Wiseman examined the commander’s eyes using optical coherence tomography equipment and a fundoscope.
Suraev performed another session of the Calcium experiment, which examines the causes of the loss of bone density that occurs in a weightless environment. For this study, Russian researchers are looking at the solubility of calcium phosphates and human bone samples in water in space.
Next, Suraev tested the secondary power supply for the Napor-mini RSA experiment, which utilizes an optical telescope and a small radar system for monitoring Earth’s environment. He rounded out his workday performing routine maintenance on the SOZh life-support system in Zvezda.
Gerst and Skvortsov had time for a conference call with the ground teams to discuss the day’s ATV training before the entire crew gathered for the evening’s daily planning conference to wrap up the workday aboard the station.