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ESA ISS Science & System - Operations Status Report # 56
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ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Columbus

4 December 2009

This is ISS status report #56 from the European Space Agency outlining ESA’s science related activities that have taken place on the ISS during the past two weeks for different European experiments and experiment facilities. The report is compiled by ESA’s Human Spaceflight Coordination Office in cooperation with ESA’s Columbus and Payload Operations Management and Mission Science teams from the ISS Utilisation Department.

ISS 21 and 22 Commanders Frank De Winne representing ESA and Jeff Williams representing NASA carried out the ISS Change of Command ceremony on 24 November, following the traditional crew photo with the joint ISS and Shuttle crews and prior to Shuttle departure. The ceremony marked the transfer from Expedition 21 to Expedition 22. Following undocking, Expedition 21 Commander Frank De Winne and ISS Expedition 21 Flight Engineerss Bob Thirsk and Roman Romanenko returned to earth in Soyuz TMA-15, landing in Kazakhstan on 1 December. During the two-week period the STS-129 mission came to conclusion, returning to Earth and landing at the Kennedy Space Center on 27 November.

ISS Utilisation Programme

The principal focus of the European utilisation of the ISS is the Columbus laboratory, which was launched and permanently attached to the ISS in February 2008. In addition to the science taking place using the internal and external experiment facilities of the Columbus laboratory, ESA also has some further ongoing research taking place inside and outside the Russian Segment of the ISS and in the US Destiny laboratory. The current status of the European science package on the ISS is as follows:

European science and research facilities inside the Columbus Laboratory

Biolab and near-term experiments
No activities were carried out using the Biolab in the two weeks up until 4 December.The next run of the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots (WAICO) experiment, which was the first experiment to take place in Biolab, has been deferred until spring 2010 and will take place after the science samples of the experiment are launched in conditioned state on Shuttle flight 19A. WAICO deals with the effect that gravity has on the spiralling motion (circumnutation) that occurs in plant Arabidopsis plant roots. It is suspected that this spiralling mechanism is an internal mechanism in the plant, independent of the influence of gravity.

The TripleLux-B experiment will tentatively be the next experiment after WAICO to take place in the Biolab facility during Increment 23/24. The objective of this experiment is to further understand the cellular mechanisms underlying the aggravation of radiation responses, and the impairment of the immune functions under spaceflight conditions.

The ArtEMISS-A experiment will also tentatively be one of the next experiments to take place in the Biolab facility. This will be tentatively performed on ISS during a sortie flight, which is envisaged in Increment 23/24. The purpose of this experiment is to determine the effect of spaceflight conditions, including weightlessness and radiation on the algae Arthrospira sp. The form, structure and physiology of the algae will be examined along with a genetic study of the organism. This data is important for determining the reliability of using Arthrospira sp. in spacecraft biological life support systems in such projects as MELISSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative).

European Drawer Rack
No activities were carried out with the European Drawer Rack in the two weeks up until 4 December. The European Drawer Rack is a multi-user experiment facility which had been continuously active and providing power, data and temperature control to the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostic Facility before the conclusion of 3½ months of successful experiment runs in July.

Fluid Science Laboratory and FASES/Geoflow-2 experiments
No activities were carried out using the Fluid Science Laboratory in the two weeks up until 4 December. The upgrades of the video system are in progress in order to support the next experiments with demanding requirements.

The Flight Acceptance Review for the Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability (FASES) experiment has started and after the Experiment Sequence Test in the associated User Support and Operations Centre, the launch of the Experiment Contrainer is foreseen on a Progress flight mid 2010. This experiment will be studying emulsion properties with advanced optical diagnostics.

The hardware modifications for the implementation of the GeoFlow-2 experiment have been started in order to launch it still on a future Shuttle flight.

Foam Stability
No further runs of the Foam Stability experiment were performed in the two weeks up until 4 December as the overall experiment programme has been successfully concluded. The project aims at the study of aqueous and non-aqueous foams in a weightless environment. The behaviour of aqueous foams in weightlessness and on Earth are very different, because the process of drainage is absent under weightless conditions. The effect/enhancement of the foamability of liquid solutions without this drainage effect of gravity is investigated. Other fundamental questions addressed are: how long can those foams be stable? What is the role of solid particles in the liquid in water foam stabilization? Is it possible to create very “wet” foams in weightlessness?

European Physiology Modules

The European Physiology Module was activated on 4 December for DOSIS data downlink. The following experiments have recently used functions of the European Physiology Modules rack in the Columbus laboratory:


  • 3D Space
    No further sessions of the 3D-Space experiment were performed in the two weeks up until 4 December. This human physiology study investigates the effects of weightlessness on the mental representation of visual information during and after spaceflight. Accurate perception is a prerequisite for spatial orientation and reliable performance of tasks in space. The experiment has different elements including investigations of perception of depth and distance carried out using a virtual reality headset and standard psychophysics tests.


  • CARD
    Blood and urine samples of ISS Commander Frank De Winne and ISS Flight Engineer Mike Barratt were returned to Earth on Shuttle Flight STS-129 on 27 November.


  • SOLO
    Blood and urine samples of ISS Commander Frank De Winne and ISS Flight Engineer Mike Barratt returned to Earth on Shuttle Flight STS-129 on 27 November.


  • Integrated Cardiovascular
    ISS Flight Engineers Stott, Williams and Thirsk performed their Integrated Cardiovascular Echo sessions on 22, 28 and 29 November respectively, with Bob Thirsk being assisted by ISS Commander Frank De Winne as Crew Medical Officer. This was the final session of the experiment for Stott and Thirsk. The NASA Integrated Cardiovascular Experiment consists of an a ultrasound Echo session and of an Ambulatory Monitoring session, which includes 24-hr blood pressure measurement using ESA’s Cardiopres device, 48-hr ECG measurement with a holter device and 48-hr activity measurements using an Actiwatch.

Flywheel Exercise Device
No further activities were carried out using the Flywheel Exercise Device in the two weeks up until 4 December. The Flywheel Exercise Device was launched to the ISS with Columbus in order to become an advanced exercise device for ISS astronauts and serving human physiology investigations in the area of advanced crew countermeasures.

The Dose Distribution inside the ISS (DOSIS) experiment is progressing well and the monthly data downlink is working perfectly. Power cycling of DOSIS and the last data downlink were performed on 4 December. On 21 November ESA Astronaut and ISS commander Frank De Winne removed the 11 DOSIS-1 Passive Detector Packages (launched in July 2009) and replaced them with the new DOSIS-2 Passive Detector Packages which were launched with Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-129 on 16 November. The old passive dosimeters were brought back to Earth on Space Shuttle Atlantis return flight on 27 November, to be delivered to DLR. The new DOSIS-2 detectors will stay onboard Columbus till April 2010. The DOSIS experiment will determine the nature and distribution of the radiation field inside European Columbus laboratory using different active and passive detectors spread around the laboratory. This is the first time that 'area dosimetry' is being undertaken on Columbus to measure the spatial radiation gradients inside the module. DOSIS will continue to record the radiation environment in the Columbus laboratory for at least one year.

Portable Pulmonary Function System
No activities were carried out using the Portable Pulmonary Function System in the two weeks up until 4 December. The Portable Pulmonary Function System is an autonomous multi-user facility supporting a broad range of human physiological research experiments under weightless condition in the areas of respiratory, cardiovascular and metabolic physiology. The Portable Pulmonary Function System currently supports the combined VO2max (NASA) and ThermoLab (ESA) experiments on orbit.

Pulmonary Function System in Human Research Facility 2 and the CARD Experiment
No activities were carried out using the Pulmonary Function System in the two weeks up until 4 December. The Pulmonary Function System is accommodated in NASA Human Research Facility 2, which was relocated from the US Destiny laboratory to the Columbus laboratory on 1 October 2008. The Pulmonary Function System is an ESA/NASA collaboration in the field of respiratory physiology instrumentation, which analyses exhaled gas from astronauts' lungs to provide near-instant data on the state of crew health.


 The tapes with the recording of the Capillarity section of ESA’s Lesson-2 educational activity performed by Frank De Winne on 20 November were returned to Earth on Shuttle Flight STS-129 on 27 November.

Wearable Augmented Reality (WEAR)
On 28 November Frank De Winne conducted another session of the ESA Wearable Augmented Reality (WEAR) experiment. De Winne performed additional testing on the WEAR recognition feature by using an updated database.

WEAR is demonstrating the usability of augmented reality technology on the ISS. The system will be worn by astronauts and will assist them when performing onboard tasks. When carrying out these tasks WEAR will allow the astronaut to consult procedures and manuals hands-free, with relevant information for the assigned task being displayed on a partially see-through screen before the astronaut’s eyes. The astronaut will control the system via voice commands. The main objective of this experiment involves assessing the maturity, suitability and overall usefulness of the technologies used in WEAR: object recognition, speech recognition, barcode reading, augmented reality and integration of multiple data sources such as the ISS Inventory Management System. The assessment will be based in the improvement observed using WEAR on a standard Columbus maintenance procedure.

European Modular Cultivation System
No activities were carried out using the European Modular Cultivation System in the two weeks up until 4 December. This space biology facility, which was flown to the ISS in July 2006, is dedicated to biological experiments such as the effects of gravity on cells, roots and physiology of plants and simple animals. It was developed by ESA and has been operated for two years under a bilateral barter agreement with NASA which is expected to be continued. Currently an option is under detailed elaboration to perform a full functional on-orbit EMCS re-verification using the remaining Experiment Containers from JAXA’s Cell Wall / Resist Wall experiment. This approach would simultaneously serve as a comprehensive checkout of European Modular Cultivation System functionality for the following experiments. Genara is tentatively the next ESA experiment to take place in the European Modular Cultivation System and will study plant (Arabidopsis) growth at molecular level in weightlessness. This will help to better understand gravitropism and to find plant systems that compensate for the negative impact on plant growth in space. Tentatively in early 2010 prior to Genara, the execution of the next NASA experiment TROPI-2 is planned with ESA’s Gravi-2 experiment following after the first part of Genara.

Microgravity Science Glovebox
The Flash Disks and Cell Arrays for the SODI ‘Influence of Vibrations on Diffusion in Liquids’ (IVIDIL) experiment were exchanged on 28 November by Bob Thirsk. Test images of the primary cell and the companion cell confirmed that no bubbles had formed in the Cell Array and science could start with Cell Array 2. Four runs have so far been performed on the second cell array with relatively high frequency/high amplitude vibration stimuli, though one run was interrupted on 3 December due to a current issue. Assessment of the science images is on-going.

In addition to the SODI-IVIDIL experiment the triple SODI (Selectable Optical Diagnostics Instrument) experiments also includes the ‘Diffusion and Soret Coefficient Measurements for Improvement of Oil Recovery’ (DSC) experiment and the Colloid experiment, which covers the study on growth and properties of advanced photonic materials within colloidal solutions. The DSC and Colloid experiments will be launched on future Shuttle flights in the time frame until spring 2010.

The Microgravity Science Glovebox was developed by ESA within a barter agreement with NASA. The Glovebox provides the ability to perform a wide range of experiments in the fields of material science, biotechnology, fluid science, combustion science and crystal growth research, in a fully sealed and controlled environment. The Microgravity Science Glovebox has been continuously used for NASA experiments and will again play an important role for ESA’s SODI experiment series.

European science and research facilities outside the Columbus laboratory in open space

SOLAR is currently in survival mode following the end of the last Sun observation window on 21 November. The platform was ‘safed’ on 25 November during the undocking of Shuttle Flight STS-129 and again on 1 December for Soyuz TMA-15/19S undocking.

The SOLAR payload facility studies the Sun’s irradiation with unprecedented accuracy across most of its spectral range during a 2-year timeframe on-orbit. The SOLAR facility has so far produced excellent scientific data during a series of Sun observation cycles. A detailed technical feasibility study for on-orbit lifetime extension is basically concluded and the science team will be able to gather further science data in a period of increasing solar activity up to the maximum in 2013.

European science inside the US Destiny Laboratory

Material Science Laboratory in the Material Science Research Rack
The first two MICAST and CETSOL sample cartridges processed in ESA’s Materials Science Laboratory were returned to Earth on Shuttle Flight STS-129 on 27 November for detailed scientific analysis on ground. ESA’s Material Science Laboratory is the primary research facility located in NASA’s Materials Science Research Rack-1, which was launched together with six cartridges for NASA and for ESA’s MICAST and CETSOL projects on STS-128/17A under a cooperation agreement with NASA and is now installed in the US Laboratory on the ISS.

CETSOL and MICAST are two complementary science projects, which will carry out research into the formation of microstructures during the solidification of metallic alloys. The goal of MICAST is to study the formation of microstructures during casting of technical alloys. In space, buoyancy convection is eliminated and the dendritic solidification of the alloys can be quantitatively studied under purely diffusive conditions. The objective of CETSOL is then to study the transition from columnar growth to equiaxed growth that occurs when crystals start to nucleate in the melt and grow independently. Results of these experiments will help to optimise industrial casting processes.

European science inside the Russian ISS Segment

In its experimental set up the Matroshka experiments consist of a simulated human body (head and torso) called the Phantom equipped with several active and passive radiation dosimeters. The Phantom will be relocated to the Japanese Kibo laboratory and equipped with a set of new passive dosimeters which were uploaded on the Progress 35P flight, which docked to the Station on 18 October. JAXA have already confirmed the technical accommodation feasibility assessments conclusion and now concrete implementation steps and bi-/trilateral agreements with JAXA and Russia can be envisaged for another experiment run until mid 2010. Roscosmos concurs to the proposed trilateral agreement and also JAXA’s concurrence has been received. In the long-term Matroshka may again be accommodated on an external ISS platform to measure cosmic radiation levels in Low Earth Orbit which are of relevance for EVA activities.

GTS-2 (Global Transmission Service)
The Global Transmission Service was temporarily deactivated on 31 May though negotiations with Russian representatives are ongoing for reactivation of the instrument and continuation of the so-called test mode. GTS will be tentatively a cooperative European-Russian experiment on ISS. This experiment is intended to test the receiving conditions of a time and data signal for dedicated receivers on the ground. The time signal distributed by the GTS has special coding to allow the receiver to determine the local time anywhere on the Earth without user intervention. The main scientific objectives of the experiment are to verify under real space operation conditions: the performance and accuracy of a time signal transmitted to the Earth’s surface from low Earth orbit; the signal quality and data rates achieved on the ground; measurement of disturbing effects such as Doppler shifts, multi-path reflections, shadowing and elevation impacts.

Additional European science outside the ISS in open space

The Expose-R facility, which was installed outside the Zvezda Service Module during the Russian-based spacewalk on 10 March 2009, is functioning well. Expose-R is a suite of nine new astrobiology experiments (eight from ESA, one from IBMP, Moscow), some of which could help understand how life originated on Earth. This suite of experiments was transported to the International Space Station on Progress flight 31P, which docked with the ISS on 30 November 2008. The experiments are accommodated in three special sample trays, which are loaded with a variety of biological samples including plant seeds and spores of bacteria, fungi and ferns, which are exposed to the harsh space environment (Solar UV, cosmic radiation, vacuum), for about one and a half years.

The individual Expose-R experiments are as follows:


  • AMINO: Photochemical processing of amino acids and other organic compounds in Earth orbit
  • ENDO: Response of endolithic organisms to space conditions
  • OSMO: Exposure of osmophilic microbes to the space environment
  • SPORES: Spores in artificial meteorites
  • PHOTO: Measurements of vacuum and solar radiation-induced DNA damages within spores
  • SUBTIL: Mutational spectra of Bacillus subtilis spores and plasmid DNA exposed to high vacuum and solar UV radiation in the space environment.
  • PUR: Responses of Phage T7, Phage DNA and polycrystalline uracil to the space environment.
  • ORGANIC: Evolution of organic matter in space.
  • IMBP: Exposure of resting stages of terrestrial organisms to space conditions.

Expose-R complements the exobiology science package that was performed in Expose-E, a twin facility which had been in operation on ESA’s EuTEF facility outside of Columbus since February 2008 until EuTEF’s return to Earth with the STS-128/17A Shuttle Flight in September.

Non-European science and research facilities inside the Columbus laboratory

Human Research Facility 1
On 21 November ISS Commander De Winne together with ISS Flight Engineers Stott, Thirsk and Williams continued their week-long sessions of the NASA SLEEP (Sleep-Wake Actigraphy & Light Exposure during Spaceflight) experiment, wearing their Actiwatch devices from which to log data to the Human Research Facility 1 laptop. Human Research Facility 1 was also activated on 22, 28 and 29 November to support Integrated Cardiovascular Echo sessions of ISS Flight Engineers Stott, Williams and Thirsk respectively.

Human Research Facility 2
The Human Research Facility 2 was activated on 21 November to support ISS Commander Frank De Winne’s session of NASA’s Nutrition Experiment, and again on 23 November to support ISS Flight engineer Bob Thirsk’s final session of the same experiment. Thirsk and De Winne assisted each other in performing this activity, which included blood draw and urine sample collections. After samples were centrifuged in the Human Research Facility Refrigerated Centrifuge they were stowed in the Minus-Eighty Laboratory Freezer (MELFI). Urine samples were also placed in MELFI.

This NASA experiment is a study of human physiologic changes during long-duration space flight. It includes measures of bone metabolism, oxidative damage, nutritional assessments, and hormonal changes.

ISS general system information and activities *

Columbus laboratory
In addition to the Columbus experiment facilities mentioned above, the Columbus systems have been working well. Some regular maintenance activities have been executed by the crew and the Flight Control Team on top of the regular conferences of the ISS Crew with the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. Main points of interest are as follows:

    On 21 November the Grapple Adaptor To On-Orbit Railing (GATOR) attached to a handrail outside of ESA’s Columbus laboratory was outfitted with Automated Identification System (AIS) and ARISS antennas with the arms of both antennas successfully deployed.

Activities of ESA Astronaut Frank De Winne

  • System and Payload Activities
    In addition to what is stated in the remainder of the report, ESA astronaut and ISS Commander Frank De Winne: supported cargo transfer activities between the Shuttle and ISS; removed, packed and transferred to the Shuttle for return the failed Urine Processor Assembly / Distillation Assembly; terminated the transfer of nitrogen gas from the Shuttle to the ISS; supported Charlie Hobaugh in tearing down the equipment used to provide oxygen from the Shuttle to the ISS for EVA pre-breathe; assisted Jeff Williams in exchanging Battery Charger Modules delivered on Shuttle Flight ULF3; tightened loose nuts and performed a realignment of the T2/COLBERT rack to ensure that the rack remains isolated and operates properly; performed regular servicing on the Waste and Hygiene Compartment by changing out its Urine Receptacle and Insert Filter; retrieved stowed four passive Formaldehyde Monitoring Kits drom the Service Module and US Laboratory; and performed the periodic reboot of all active US Portable Computer System and Columbus Portable Workstation laptops as well as the OCA Router and File Server laptops.


  • Experiment Activities
    As well as being a focus of the European science programme detailed above, ESA astronaut Frank De Winne has carried out additional science activities in support of the science programmes of ESA’s ISS partners. On 21 and 22 November Frank De Winne continued and completed his final session of the NASA Nutrition experiment, including blood draw and 24-hour urine collection. On 23 November he supported the last day of the JAXA RadSilk experiment terminating sample incubation and placing samples into MELFI. From 24 Novermber he also performed saliva and blood collection for the Integrated Immune experiment. Samples were then stored on the Soyuz for return to ground, on 28 November he conducted a new session of the WinSCAT (Spaceflight Cognitive Assessment Tool for Windows) experiment.


  • Health Status Activities
    The crew undertake health status checks on a regular basis. During the last two weeks De Winne performed a periodic session of the Russian biomedical routine assessment Body Mass Measurement together with Thirsk and Romanenko on 27 November and filled in the weekly Food Frequency Questionnaires to estimate nutritional intake for the astronauts and give recommendations to ground specialists that help maintain optimal crew health.

    In connection with health status De Winne (and the rest of the crew) undertake regular Private Medical Conferences with the ground, and daily exercise routines on the ISS. De Winne was involved on various occasions in the last two weeks with downloading exercise data for the crew for downlinking to the ground.


  • Public Affairs Events
    On 24 November De Winne and the rest of the crew held the traditional Joint Crew News Conference with U.S., Russian, Canadian and European media. On the education side De Winne undertook three amateur radio sessions On 26 November with students at Dumbleyung Primary School in Dumbleyung, Western Australia, at the Institut Don Bosco in Bruxelles, Belgium, and at the Katholieke Centrumscholen Sint-Truiden in Sint-Truiden, Belgium. On 27 November De Winne was interviewed by a reporter from the news TV channel “Russia Today”.


  • Other Activities
    During the last two weeks Frank De Winne and the rest of the crew had their regular planning conferences/tag ups with the Mission Control Centres in Moscow and Houston.

STS-129/ULF3 Mission

  • ExPRESS Logistics Carrier Installation
    With the help of the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System and the Canadian Space Station Remote Manipulator System the second of two EXPRESS Logistics Carriers was transferred from the Shuttle’s Cargo Bay to the ISS on 21 November. It was installed on the Upper Outboard Payload Attachment System on Starboard Segment 3 of the main truss. The EXPRESS Logistics Carrier carried various spares including a Control Moment Gyroscope, a Nitrogen Tank Assembly, a Pump Module, a High Pressure Gas Tank, a Mobile Transporter Trailing Umbilical System Reel Assembly, a Cargo Transport Container, plus MISSE attach hardware and one empty site for future payloads.


  • Spacewalk 2 (Forman, Bresnik)
    Spacewalk 2 was successfully carried out by Mike Forman and Randolph Bresnik (representing NASA) on 21 November. The spacewalk was preceded by standard procedures including the overnight camp out of the EVA astronauts in the Airlock at a reduced pressure and pre-breathing pure oxygen to remove nitrogen from their bodies. However the camp out procedure was disrupted by the false fire alarm from the Airlock Smoke Detector, which made necessary a Smoke Detector cleaning to prevent further events and resulted in the Airlock returning to stack pressure. Since it would have taken too long to recover the Airlock to continue the Campout, it was decided to proceed using the EVA exercise prebreathe protocol for EVA-2 instead. After crew wake up the EVA Astronauts completed their prebreathe protocol via a prescribed exercise regimen, however the EVA was shortened by approximately 30 min.

    During the 6 hr 8 minutes EVA the astronauts outfitted ESA’s Grapple Adaptor To On-Orbit Railing (GATOR) with a Coast Guard Automated Identification System (AIS) antenna and an ARISS (Amateur Radio on the ISS) antenna; deployed the S3 Zenith Inboard Payload Attachment System; relocated the Floating Potential Measurement Unit and video stanchion from the S1 truss section to the P1 truss section; installed the Wireless Video System External Transceiver Assembly on the S3 truss; and installed the High Pressure Gas Tank guide post on the Quest Airlock. As get-ahead tasks they also inspected and reseated the Space-to-Ground Antenna coax cable connectors which had shown weak Signal-to-Noise Ratio; retrieved an Articulated Portable Foot Restraint from Pressurized Mating Adapter 1 to be brought inside for reconfiguration, relocated a Tool Stanchion from Pressurized Mating Adapter 1 to the P1 truss section, and photographed the Node-2 Nadir Common Berthing Mechanism.


  • Spacewalk 3 (Satcher, Bresnik)
    The two spacewalkers Bobby Satcher and Randy Bresnik (representing NASA) camped out overnight in the ‘Quest’ Airlock on 22 November. The 23 November EVA was successfully completed in 5 hr 42 minutes. During the EVA the astronauts: installed a High Pressure Oxygen Tank; installed Materials International Space Station Experiment 7 (MISSE 7) on ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 2; tied down several debris protection panels on the Quest Airlock; released a bolt on the S1 Ammonia Tank Assembly in preparation of a future spacewalk: stowed a Cheater Bar; completed Mobile Servicing System tasks; Installed P1/P3 and S1/S3 fluid lines, and relocated an Articulating Portable Foot Restraint at Worksite Interface Fixture 4 on the US Laboratory.


  • STS-129 Undocking
    Following the ISS Change of Command Ceremony on 24 November and the usual crew farewells, the Shuttle crew entered Space Shuttle Atlantis. The Shuttle crew consisted of Shuttle Commander Charlie Hobaugh, Pilot Barry Wilmore, and Mission Specialists Leland Melvin, Randy Bresnik, Mike Forman and Bobby Satcher. ISS Flight Engineer Nicole Stott joined the crew for the return journey. Hereafter ventilation ducting was removed and the hatches were closed, by Frank De Winne on the ISS side and by Hobaugh and Bresnik on the Shuttle side. After hatch closure the standard one-hour leak check was carried out.

    The following day at 10:53 CET, Atlantis undocked from the ISS, thereafter performing a Station fly-around for carrying out documentary image taking (photo and video). A final separation burn was performed hereafter. After undocking Williams removed temporary ventilation form Node 2 and Frank De Winne depressurised Pressurized Mating Adaptor 2 where the Shuttle had been docked, to prevent condensation, and performed a leak check on the adaptor; restored communications systems to their post-undocking configuration; and relocated emergency breathing apparatus to the Columbus laboratory from the US Airlock as it is no longer needed to support the Shuttle mission EVAs.

    STS-129 Shuttle Atlantis landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on 27 November at 15:45 CET (09:45 local time).

ISS Crew Return Preparations

  • Orthostatic hemodynamic endurance tests
    On 24, 27, 28 and 29 November Roman Romanenko, assisted by Maxim Suraev (bith Roscosmos cosmonauts and ISS Flight Engineers), carried out orthostatic hemodynamic endurance test sessions using the TVIS treadmill and the VELO ergometer whilst wearing the Chibis suit in preparation for his return to gravity with De Winne and Thirsk on 1 December. The Russian Chibis lower body negative pressure suit, which provides stress that simulates gravity to the body’s cardiovascular/circulatory system, helps to evaluate how the Russian crewmember would cope with exposure to gravity on return to Earth. Then, together with De Winne and Thirsk, he prepared their Kentavr anti-G suits, which are worn during reentry: this acts as countermeasure for circulatory disturbance, preventing crewmembers from overloading during descent and increasing orthostatic tolerance during the post-flight adaptation.


  • Spacesuits checks
    On 21 November De Winne, Thirsk and Romanenko performed the leak checks of the Sokol spacesuits to be worn during their return in Soyuz TMA-15.


  • Soyuz TMA-15 descent training
    On 26 November De Winne, Romanenko and Thirsk carried out simulation training of their return journey in Soyuz TMA-15/19S on 1 December. The training was carried out on a Russian laptop with a hand controller. Being supported during the activity by ground personnel at the Mission Control Centre in Moscow, the training covered emergency and off-nominal procedures such as manual undocking. On 27 November Romanenko & De Winne supported a ground-commanded checkout of the Soyuz motion control system before carrying out the Soyuz descent drill in the Soyuz TMA-15 with Bob Thirsk.


  • Final Undocking Preparations
    During the last two weeks, among the regular crew departure preparations, De Winne, Thirsk and Romanenko prepared equipment to be returned to Earth on the Soyuz TMA-15. On 29 November Romanenko and Suraev finished packing and tying down return cargo in the Descent Module and stowing trash and excess cargo in the Habitation Module to be burnt up in the atmosphere after Soyuz TMA Module separation. On 30 November Romanenko and De Winne entered the Descent Module and performed the standard pre-undocking communications check, as Suraev configured the communications systems in the Service Module for undocking.


  • Soyuz TMA-15 undocking and landing
    Following the traditional farewell between the ISS Expedition 21 and 22 crews, De Winne, Romanenko and Thirsk entered the Soyuz TMA-15 spacecraft. The Zarya nadir and Soyuz hatches were then closed by De Winne and Romanenko on the Soyuz side and Suraev and Williams on the ISS side. The interhatch area was depressurised followed by the standard one-hour leak check carried out by the Soyuz crew. The Soyuz TMA-15 undocked from the ISS at 04:56 CET on 1 December, leaving a two-member ISS crew on the Station, ISS Commander Jeff Williams and ISS Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev. After undocking the ISS crew reconfigured communications equipment and downlinking imagery taking during undocking. The Soyuz TMA-15 spacecraft carried out a 4 min 25 sec deorbit burn at 07:26 CET with module separation occurring almost 25 minutes later. Three minutes afterwards the Soyuz Descent Module started entering Earth’s upper atmosphere. With the Soyuz parachutes deploying at 08:01, the Descent Module landed safely in Kazakhstan at 08:16 CET (13:16 local time). After landing the crew was transported to Arkalyk and then flown to Star City near Moscow via Kustanai for the usual landing ceremony.

Mini-Research Module 2
Outfitting of the new Mini Research Module 2 or “Poisk”, was carried out by Romanenko and Suraev between 21 – 24 November. The cosmonauts also supported communications testing. Following false depressurisation and fire alarms on 21 November originating from the new Mini-Research Module 2 or “Poisk”, test activation of the three alarm panel buttons for fire, depressurisation and toxic atmosphere, was carried out the next day. This unexpectedly set off the US Caution and Warning System, though a software patch was uploaded on 26 November to inhibit this kind of reaction by the US systems. This patch was successfully tested the following day. RSC-Energia isolated the problem during during ground testing. ‘Poisk’, which means ‘Search’ or ‘Quest’, is almost a copy of the Pirs Docking Module and acts as an airlock and docking port for Russian spacecraft. In addition the module can accommodate external research payloads. It was launched to the ISS on 10 November, docking on 12 November.

Minus-Eighty Laboratory Freezer for the ISS (MELFI)
On 21 November Bob Thirsk performed the first harvest of the NASA Transgenic Arabidopsis Gene Expression System (TAGES) plants. Samples were stored in the European-built MELFI freezer on 22 November. On 23 November Culture Bag Holders from the JAXA CERISE experiment were placed into the MELFI (Minus Eighty Laboratory Freezer for ISS) for return on Flight STS-130/20A in February 2010. On 24 November De Winne, Thirsk, Williams and Melvin transferred payload samples from MELFI to the Shuttle for return to earth, among which were samples from ESA’s SOLO and CARD experiments. More samples and Icepacs were later transferred by Frank De Winne and Bob Thirsk.

Oxygen Generation System
On 24 November Bob Thirsk spent several hours removing an inlet screen/filter from the failed Water Orbit Replaceable Unit of the Oxygen Generation System and stowed on the Shuttle for return to earth. Frank De Winne and Jeff Williams installed a new inlet screen/filter on 29 November.

TVIS Treadmill
On 29 November, during periodic inspection of the Treadmill with Vibration Isolation System (TVIS), Bob Thirsk discovered two sections of the gyroscope wire ropes were severed. Ground crews are now analysing imagery downloaded from the ISS. The TVIS treadmill is currently out of use.

Quest Airlock Activities
On 30 November, Jeff Williams carried out different activities in the Quest Airlock following completion of the STS-129 mission including inspecting EVA tethers, terminating the recharge of EVA batteries and regeneration of carbon dioxide removal canisters, and stowing EVA batteries and tools. On 4 December Williams scrubbed the cooling loops of two EVA suits to remove particulate matter.

ISS Reboost
Space Shutttle Atlantis performed a reboost of the ISS on 24 November to raise the altitude of the ISS to account for atmospheric drag.

Air Quality Monitor
Frank De Winne, Bob Thirsk, Nicole Stott and Jeff Williams all completed several sampling sessions with the Air Quality Monitor in the last two weeks. This device is being used for identifying volatile organic compounds in the ISS cabin atmosphere. This new technology is being evaluated over a period of several months.

Other Activities
During the past two weeks: the crew completed the deployment of the new T61p Portable Computer System laptops; Stott transferred a new communications unit into EXPRESS Rack 6; Thirsk carried out a leak check on Pressurized Mating Adaptor 3; water was transferred from the Progress M-03M/35P spacecraft to the Service Module; the Potable Water Dispenser is again a ‘go’ for use after filter exchange and flushing the system; Suraev replaced a filtration unit in the SRVK-2M condensate processor following sample analysis; and high-resolution photos were taken of the mast structure of Solar Array Wing 2A to help in the resolution of a solar array unlatching and movement problem.

(*)These activities are highlights of the past two weeks and do not include the majority of standard periodic operational/maintenance activities on the ISS or additional research activities not mentioned previously. Information compiled with the assistance of NASA sources.

Martin Zell
ESA Head of ISS Utilisation Department

Markus Bauer
ESA Human Spaceflight Programme Communication Officer

Weekly reports compiled by ESA's Human Spaceflight Coordination Office.

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