The International Space Station (ISS) has seen a lot activity in the past few weeks; including the first commercial resupply cargo ship to visit the station. On October 10, 2012, the SpaceX Dragon capsule was captured by the International Space Station’s robotic arm as it sped towards the station. The cargo ship was maneuvered toward the Harmony module where it docked and the hatch opened. For the next 18 days, the cargo was unloaded and included hardware along with science and crew supplies that totaled 882 pounds. It was then reloaded with 1,673 pounds of cargo to be returned to Earth. The robotic arm then detached the SpaceX Dragon capsule from the Harmony module, where it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and splashed into the Pacific Ocean.
Three members of the Expedition 33 crew also joined the rest of their teammates on the International Space Station on October 25, 2012, just in time to help with the reloading of the SpaceX Dragon capsule. Three of the crew members had already arrived on July 17, 2012 after launching into space on July 14th. The mission of the Expedition 33 crew is research on microgravity as the International Space Station’s unique microgravity environment allows for in-depth studies into it affects on crew members. The crew will conduct spinal ultrasounds to assess and study changes in the spinal cord before and after space flight. This information will be incorporated into a mission health risk assessment for microgravity-induced spinal changes as related to potential injury and back pain.
Alongside the spinal tests, Expedition 33 will monitor crew member immune function by collecting blood, urine and saliva samples to assess the effects of spaceflight. The crew will also experiment with the effectiveness of low-volume, high-intensity exercise in order to reduce the loss of bone and muscle function while in space for long periods of time.
The crew on the ISS will also do their own Earth observations – taking photographs of human and natural events occurring on our planet. These images, taken over time, record changes on the Earth’s surface along with short-term natural events like fires, floods, volcanic events and weather disasters. Finally, the crew will test in-orbit satellite phone networks to plan for future spacecraft telecommunication systems.
The International Space Station has seen a lot of activity in the past month from both NASA crew and commercial spacecraft. Three members of the Expedition 33 crew will be leaving the International Space Station and landing on Earth on November 12, 2012. Expedition 34 will then commence, and they will be joined by three more crew members in December, continuing the ongoing research on the orbiting space station.