Astronaut Commands Robotic Arm to Capture Cygnus Cargo Craft
At 5:26 a.m. EDT, Expedition 55 Flight Engineer Scott Tingle of NASA successfully captured Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft using the International Space Station’s robotic arm, backed by NASA Astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel. Robotic ground controllers will position Cygnus for installation to the orbiting laboratory’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module.
NASA TV coverage of operations to install the Cygnus, dubbed the S.S. James “J.R.” Thompson, to the space station’s Unity module will resume at 7:30 a.m.
The International Space Station and Cygnus flight control teams are proceeding toward capture at approximately 5:20 a.m. EDT. Orbital ATK reports all spacecraft systems are ready for the final stages of rendezvous and space station flight controllers report the orbiting outpost is ready for the commercial spacecraft’s arrival.
The spacecraft will deliver scientific investigations including those that will study microbiology, physics, materials science, plant biology, liquid separation and more.
NASA Television coverage of capture has begun. Watch live online at www.nasa.gov/live.
A timeline of remaining Cygnus and space station activities for the earliest capture attempt is below:
The Cygnus space freighter from Orbital ATK is closing in on the International Space Station ready to deliver 7,400 pounds of cargo Thursday morning. The Expedition 55 crew members are getting ready for Cygnus’ arrival while also helping researchers understand what living in space does to the human body.
NASA TV is set to begin its live coverage of Cygnus’ arrival at the orbital lab Thursday at 3:45 a.m. EDT. Flight Engineer Scott Tingle will be inside the Cupola and command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and capture Cygnus at 5:20 a.m. Robotics engineers at Mission Control will then take over and remotely install Cygnus to the Earth-facing port of the Unity module later Thursday morning.
The crew started its day collecting blood and urine samples for a pair of experiments, Biochemical Profile and Repository, looking at the physiological changes taking place in astronauts. Those samples are stowed in science freezers for return to Earth so scientists can later analyze the proteins and chemicals for indicators of crew health.
Another pair of experiments taking place today is looking at bone marrow, blood cells and the cardiovascular system. The Marrow study, which looks at white and red blood cells in bone marrow, may benefit astronaut health as well as people on Earth with reduced mobility or aging conditions. The Vascular Echo experiment is observing stiffening arteries in astronauts that resembles accelerated aging.
Wow, time has gone by extremely fast. The mid-deployment phase will be short-lived for me this time, as the new crew (Drew Feustel, Ricky Arnold, and Oleg Artemyev) will arrive on March 23rd, and then we have at least one spacewalk on the 29th, followed by a planned SpaceX Dragon cargo craft arrival on the 4th of April. It’s a little strange being up here with only two other crewmates. We are still very busy, but the overall work effort is half of what it was just a week ago. My crewmate, Nemo (Norishige Kanai), and I are trying to use the time to prepare for the upcoming very busy schedule, and we have been having some great success getting a ton of details taken care of.
Yesterday I had a funny event, though. I was controlling a robot named “Justin” who was located in Munich. The research and demonstration events were so interesting and fun that I offered them my lunch hour to do an additional protocol and have a longer debrief session. The ground team responded happily and accepted the offer – any extra time with crew onboard the International Space Station (ISS) is valuable to our programs. Halfway through the event, the team needed a few minutes to shut down and restart the robot, and I surmised that since I was skipping my break, this would be a good time to use the toilet. And I did, use the toilet. And literally 3 minutes later I returned, waited another 2 minutes for the robot systems to connect, and we began another great session controlling Justin from ISS with no loss to science. Later that same day, I was approached by the ground team in Houston (not the test team I was working with in Munich) and queried if something was wrong, and why did I have to take a toilet break while we were executing valuable science? They were concerned that I might have a medical issue, as taking a break in the middle of some very valuable science is not normal for us to do while on ISS. It’s nice to know that we have literally hundreds of highly-trained professionals looking out for us.
While flying fast-moving jets, we practice the art of recovering from unusual attitudes. We close our eyes, and let the instructor put the jet in an unexpected attitude. Sometimes straight up, sometimes straight down, sometimes upside down, and sometimes anything in-between. The goal is to open our eyes, analyze the situation and make rapid and smooth corrections to power and attitude to effect a speedy recovery to straight and level flight without departing controlled flight, or having to endure high G’s, or experiencing big losses of altitude. Sometimes, when I crawl into my crew quarters on the space station, it is very dark – just like closing our eyes in the jet. And then, as I sleep, my body floats around and changes position. When I awake in total darkness, I have to figure out what attitude I am in relative to my crew quarters and then right myself. “Unusual Attitude Recovery” can be pretty funny. And sometimes, my heart can get pumping as I awake and realize I don’t know what my attitude is. I execute my procedures to figure out what my attitude is, and then correct it. At first, it used to take me a while to realize. But now, it is second nature – and it always brings a smile to my face.