Space station crew pack cargo for departure and prepare for spacewalk


Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus Supply Spacecraft. Credit: NASA

The crew of Expedition 66 turn their attention to the US space freighter Cygnus as it nears its departure this weekend after 100 days docked at the station’s Unity module. Astronauts are also preparing for a spacewalk to replace a faulty antenna system on the International Space Station.

">Nasa Astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari and Mark Vande Hei spent Wednesday afternoon packing Cygnus with trash and obsolete equipment. ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer continued loading the cargo on Thursday. He will be at the robotic workstation to monitor his departure on Saturday at 11 a.m. EST. Robotic controllers remotely operating the Canadarm2 robotic arm from Earth will command Cygnus’ release live on NASA TV from 10:45 a.m.

Cygnus will have one more mission as he re-enters Earth’s atmosphere for fiery but sure destruction over the Pacific Ocean. The Kentucky Re-entry Probe Experiment will deploy three Cygnus capsules to collect and transmit thermal data from sensors embedded in heat shields. The data can help validate thermal protection systems in space and heat shield materials on Earth.

Pair of NASA space suits

A pair of US space suits that will be worn by NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron are pictured in the station’s Quest airlock. Credit: NASA

Meanwhile, Marshburn and NASA flight engineer Kayla Barron must soon leave the US Quest airlock to exchange the S-Band antenna system with a spare already attached outside the station. Maurer will be in command of Canadarm2 to assist the duo during the scheduled six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk.

Marshburn and Barron were joined by NASA flight engineers Raja Chari and Mark Vande Hei inside Quest on Thursday as they try on their US spacesuits for a fit check. Chari and Vande Hei will be on duty to monitor the two astronauts during the spacewalk and help them get in and out of their space suits. A press conference to discuss spacewalk activities is scheduled for Monday, November 29.

Science was back on track Thursday with the crew exploring human research, botany and space physics. Chari and Barron tested how astronauts perceive up-and-down movement and grip and manipulate objects in microgravity. Vande Hei cleared the debris around the peppers growing inside the advanced plant habitat. Finally, station commander Anton Shkaplerov in Roscosmos exchanged samples inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox for a physics study aimed at improving the production of higher quality semiconductor crystals.