The International Space Station is gearing up for a pair of spaceships launching next weekend to deliver a new crew and more science and supplies. The Expedition 60 crew is also testing a new robotic assistant and learning how long-term weightlessness impacts crew performance.
Three people are at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan counting down to their historic July 20 launch to the orbiting lab aboard the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship. Astronauts Drew Morgan and Luca Parmitano will flank cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov in the Soyuz spaceship as he commands their six-and-a-half hour ride to their new home in space. The trio’s launch comes 50 years to the day when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped foot on the Moon for the first time.
The following day on July 21, SpaceX will launch its Dragon space freighter from Florida on a day-and-a-half flight to the space station. Dragon is delivering supplies and a variety of new research gear to explore space-mining techniques, neurodegenerative disease treatments, space botany and microbial evolution.
NASA Flight Engineers Nick Hague and Christina Koch are training to capture Dragon with the Canadarm2 robotic arm when it arrives Tuesday, July 23. Hague will command Canadarm2 to reach out and grapple Dragon when the resupply ship reaches a point about 10 meters from the station. Koch will back up Hague and monitor Dragon’s approach and rendezvous from inside the cupola.
Koch set up the Astrobee free-flying robotic helper Friday afternoon and monitored its flight test in the Kibo laboratory module. Engineers are testing and calibrating the cube-shaped Astrobee’s mobility for its potential to perform routine lab monitoring and station tasks.
Hague started the day helping scientists understand how microgravity affects blood flow to the brain for the Cerebral Autoregulation biomedical study. After completing that study, he closed out the Two-Phase Flow heat transfer experiment that may advance the design of cooling systems for Earth and space applications.
Station Commander Alexey Ovchinin is helping his home space agency, Roscosmos, train future cosmonauts today. He performed tasks to help scientists understand how microgravity affects a crewmember’s ability to pilot a spacecraft or remotely control a robotic vehicle on a planetary surface.