Friday, January 18, 2013

ISS Enters Its Prime

Click the arrow to watch a NASA video about the Robotic Refueling Mission.

It was a good week if you believe in the potential of the International Space Station.

On Wednesday, it was announced at a press conference in North Las Vegas that NASA will berth a Bigelow Aerospace inflatable habitat at the ISS sometime in 2015. The mission will demonstrate the viability of a technology that could radically reduce the cost of a human presence in space, and on surfaces of other worlds such as the Moon or an asteroid.

The Robotic Refueling Mission began this week. According to its NASA Fact Sheet, the RRM will “demonstrate and test the tools, technologies, and techniques needed to robotically refuel satellites in space — especially satellites not designed to be serviced.”

Tests began on Monday, but were halted on Wednesday due to a software glitch in Canadarm2, the robotic manipulator arm outside the ISS. Tests were scheduled to resume yesterday.

You can follow NASA's Satellite Servicing program on Twitter at @NASA_SatServ, and at the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office web site.

Inside the station, U.S. astronauts continue training experiments with Robonaut 2.

Click the arrow to watch a NASA video about Robonaut 2.

According to its NASA project web site, “The first humanoid robot in space was sent to the space station with the intention of eventually taking over tasks too dangerous or mundane for astronauts.”

On Wednesday, R2 was commanded to monitor air velocity aboard the station, holding gauges in front of five air vents.

You can follow R2's activities on Twitter at @AstroRobonaut, and at the Robonaut web site.

The ISS serves as a test bed for 21st Century technology, but it also serves as a simulator for long-duration space flight.

A trip to Mars could take anywhere from six months to a year one way. Long-term exposure to microgravity is known to have adverse effects on the human body.

The current crew are part of an experiment called the Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training Study. The study “evaluates the use of high intensity, low volume exercise training to minimize loss of muscle, bone, and cardiovascular function in ISS crewmembers during long-duration missions.”

One of the routines involves the use of the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED).

Click the arrow to watch Expedition 26 commander Scott Kelly demonstrate the ARED.

According to the ARED web page, “Upon completion of this study, investigators expect to provide an integrated resistance and aerobic exercise training protocol capable of maintaining muscle, bone and cardiovascular health while reducing total exercise time over 180 days of spaceflight. This will provide invaluable information in support of the investigator’s long-term goal of protecting human fitness for longer space exploration missions.”

In November, NASA and Roscosmos announced that Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko will fly a one-year ISS mission starting in 2015.

According to the press release:

The goal of their yearlong expedition aboard the orbiting laboratory is to understand better how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space. Data from the 12-month expedition will help inform current assessments of crew performance and health and will determine better and validate countermeasures to reduce the risks associated with future exploration as NASA plans for missions around the moon, an asteroid and ultimately Mars.

Research in the station's U.S. National Laboratory continues, managed by the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS). On January 11, high school students tested their small satellites SPHERES experiment aboard the ISS.

Click the arrow to watch an interview with SPHERES lead scientist Dr. Alvar Saenz-Otero.

It was an exciting week for science aboard the International Space Station. We have another 49 weeks left to go in the year. I can't wait to see what's next.

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