International Space Station prepares for new crew members

Activities aboard the International Space Station (ISS) continue to ramp up for next week’s departure of three crew members and the arrival of three new residents at the end of the month.

Nevertheless, the Expedition 34 crew still managed to tackle quite an impressive workload of science and station maintenance this week.

For example, Commander Kevin Ford, who will be heading back to Earth on March 14 with Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin, spent much of Wednesday morning inside the Kibo module removing hardware for the recently completed Marangoni experiment from the Fluid Physics Experiment Facility.

After uninstalling the hardware for this study of the Marangoni effect – the flow of liquids caused by surface tension – the commander thanked the teams in Japan supporting this experiment as well as the recent Medaka fish experiment.

“Marangoni and Medaka represent exactly why we need to be up here in zero gravity doing those experiments. Those are both so unique they could never be done on Earth,” said Ford.

The commander rounded out his day with departure preparations as he, Novitskiy and Tarelkin get their Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft packed up and ready for the journey back to Earth. The three are scheduled to undock from the station around 8:30 p.m. EDT on March 14, landing in the steppe of Kazakhstan northeast of the remote town of Arkalyk about 3 ½ hours later to wrap up 143 days in space, 141 aboard the station.

Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield, who will become commander of Expedition 35 when Ford’s Soyuz undocks, worked with a variety of physics experiments throughout the day. Hadfield first checked in on the Coarsening in Solid Liquid Mixtures-3 experiment, which investigates the rates of coarsening of solid particles embedded in a liquid matrix. This experiment was just one part of the 1,200 pounds of science, hardware and crew supplies delivered to the station aboard the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft on Sunday.

Hadfield also worked with the Binary Colloidal Alloy Test science payload, which analyzes colloids – microscopic particles suspended in a liquid – and may lead to improvements in manufacturing processes here on Earth. Finally, Hadfield set up the Microflow technology demonstration hardware and tested biological samples with its miniaturized flow cytometer.

Meanwhile, Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn reached the midpoint of a 48-hour data collection run as sensors attached to his body record information for the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment. Researchers are studying the atrophy of the heart muscle that appears to occur during long-duration spaceflight in order to develop countermeasures to keep the crew healthy. The research may also have benefits for people on Earth with heart problems.

Marshburn also installed a GLACIER freezer in the EXPRESS rack to store research samples at ultra-cold temperatures. Two GLACIER science freezers were delivered to the station by Dragon, one of which will come back aboard Dragon after being filled with experiments and biological samples for study on Earth.

In the Russian segment of the station, while Novitskiy and Tarelkin continued their departure preparations, Flight Engineer Roman Romanenko updated the firmware in a computer located in the Poisk Mini-Research Module 2. Tarelkin also spent several hours participating in the Typology experiment, which studies a crew member’s ability to perform and communicate under stress.

While the Expedition 34 crew focused on the day’s activities, the robotics team at Houston’s Mission Control remotely commanded the station’s 58-foot robotic arm, Canadarm2, to extract a pair of grapple bars from the unpressurized “trunk” of the SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle and stow them temporarily on a payload attachment point outside the station. These bars, which together weigh about 600 pounds, can be used to remove failed radiators on the station’s S1 and P1 truss segments, should that ever be d necessary.

Finally, at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, the three flight engineers who will round out the Expedition 35 crew are preparing for their March 28 launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin, along with their backup crew, wrapped up their qualification simulation runs Wednesday in Soyuz and Russian segment trainers.