How Humanity Spent Its First 20 Years in Orbit Aboard the ISS

A few years before, Congress had designated the US portion of the ISS as the newest addition to the country’s national laboratories, which would be responsible for handling all non-NASA microgravity research. In 2011, NASA officials selected the nonprofit Center for Advancement of Science in Space to manage the laboratory, which has been responsible for shepherding hundreds of experiments from researchers at American universities and companies. The lab collaborates with the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health to select those experiments and flies about 50 every year.

“We have this awesome model of a public-private partnership on this station that lends itself to organizations other than NASA who are doing things in microgravity that may not relate to space exploration,” says Ken Shields, the chief operation officer of the ISS National Laboratory. “In developing these partnerships, we now have companies that are able to do technology research and development on the station in a rapid way and apply the results.”

The ISS National Lab handles experiments in both basic and applied science. Out of the hundreds of inquiries received every year, the lab can fly only a few dozen payloads that fall into a few broad categories of interest, such as remote sensing or life sciences. While an earthbound national lab like Lawrence Livermore or Argonne might have thousands of employees, the ISS National Lab has only a handful of NASA crew members. “We are extremely reliant upon the astronauts to execute the experiments,” says Michael Roberts, the acting chief scientist of the ISS National Laboratory. He says the limited time of the astronauts, who are also tasked with carrying out NASA’s own experiments and taking care of the station, creates all sorts of unique challenges that aren’t faced by other national labs. Just getting the experiments into their hands is fraught with logistical difficulties. “It’s not an easy prospect to take an experiment, package it up, put it on a rocket, launch it to a remote destination, have it transferred over, have it activated, have it shut down, collected, and sent back,” Roberts says.

A science or technology payload on the ISS could involve anything from creating fireballs to growing barley for beer, but NASA administrators have singled out a few core areas that they think are the most promising for R&D in low earth orbit. Manufacturing in microgravity, for instance, has advantages for making exotic materials like a fragile type of glass that could dramatically improve the performance of undersea cables. But arguably the most exciting applications are in the medical field; experiments with organs on a chip could eventually eradicate animal testing and expedite drug discovery. The microgravity environment could be harnessed to grow 3D cell-tissue models, called organoids, that will be useful for studying a variety of human diseases.

Last year, Valentina Fossati, a researcher at the New York Stem Cell Foundation, sent a few organoids to the ISS in order to study key cellular mechanisms in Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis in

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With SpaceX rocket issue sorted, NASA ready to send four astronauts to ISS

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NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins, and astronaut Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, who constitute the crew of NASA’s Crew-1 mission, inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.


SpaceX

SpaceX and NASA say they’ve sorted out a hiccup seen recently in a Falcon 9 rocket and are aiming to send four astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft on Nov. 14.

On Oct. 2, a planned Falcon 9 launch of a US Space Force GPS satellite was automatically aborted just a few seconds before liftoff. An ensuing investigation revealed that two of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines had attempted to start early, triggering the automatic abort.

In a call with reporters on Wednesday, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president for build and flight reliability, explained that the abort prevented a “hard start” that could’ve done some damage to the engines.

The engines were removed from the rocket for testing, and some blockage in a tiny relief valve line was discovered. A red masking lacquer, similar to something like nail polish, was apparently dislodged during cleaning and washed into a tiny hole, about one-sixteenth of an inch (1.57 millimeters) across, where it then hardened and blocked the line. 

Koenigsmann said SpaceX “found the same tendencies” on engines to be used for the Crew-1 launch as well as the planned Nov. 10 launch of NASA’s Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite to monitor sea levels worldwide. 

The suspect engines have been swapped out, and NASA and SpaceX now say they expect to be ready to launch on Nov. 14.


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The Crew-1 mission marks the first crewed flight to the ISS since the Demo-1 flight of a Crew Dragon carried NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken there; that landmark flight was the first crewed flight from US soil since the end of the Space Shuttle program.

When Crew-1 delivers NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, along with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Soichi Noguchi, to the ISS, it’ll expand the space station’s crew size to seven people, allowing for more research to be done in orbit.

Crew-1 is set to launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 14 at 4:49 p.m. PT (7:49 p.m. ET).

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NASA and SpaceX targeting Nov. 14 for next crewed launch to ISS

SpaceX expressed confidence an engine issue that delayed the launch was fixed.

The NASA SpaceX Crew-1 mission is currently scheduled to launch on Nov. 14, after a slight delay to assess an issue with the Falcon 9 rocket’s engine. In a news conference Wednesday, NASA and SpaceX leaders expressed confidence that the issue had been resolved.

The next mission comes on the heels of the successful launch and return of NASA-SpaceX astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken this summer with the Demo-2 mission that made history by bringing launch capabilities back to U.S. soil for the first time in nearly a decade.

The next batch of NASA-SpaceX astronauts includes a Space Force colonel, a Black pilot leaving Earth for the first time, a woman who has logged nearly 4,000 hours in space and a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut.

The crew is comprised of NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker as well as JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

Hopkins, the commander of the mission, has spent 166 days in space and completed multiple space walks. The Missouri native formerly worked as a flight test engineer with the Air Force prior to joining NASA.

This will be the first spaceflight for Glover, the pilot and second-in-command for the mission. A native of California, Glover was selected as an astronaut in 2013 and is a former Naval aviator.

Walker is the team’s mission specialist. She is an ISS veteran, having spent 161 days aboard the orbiting laboratory in 2010 conducting numerous experiments.

Noguchi, also a mission specialist for the crew, is the first international NASA-SpaceX crew member. Noguchi has been on two spaceflights and made history as the first Japanese astronaut to perform a spacewalk outside the ISS in 2005.

The crew is slated to stay aboard the ISS for six months and conduct science experiments and help with maintenance on the multibillion dollar orbiting laboratory.

“I know that the science community is looking forward to having all those arms and legs on orbit to be able to help them be able to accomplish their goals for this increment,” Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator and human exploration and operations mission directorate, said at a news conference Wednesday.

The crew is currently in a “soft quarantine” with their families before heading into a more stringent

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NASA astronaut Kate Rubins votes from ISS: ‘If we can do it from space…’

This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET’s coverage of the run-up to voting in November.

However you go about casting your vote, you have to admire this NASA astronaut who managed to cast her vote all the way from space. Kate Rubins, who’s currently aboard the International Space Station, posted a photo of herself in front of a padded booth marked “ISS Voting Booth,” with the text “From the International Space Station: I voted today.”

NASA notes this isn’t Rubins’ first time voting from space. She did so in 2016, when she was also on the ISS. 

“I think it’s really important for everybody to vote,” Rubins said in a video uploaded by NASA. “And if we can do it from space, then I believe folks can do it from the ground, too.” Rubins’ six-month ISS mission began Oct. 14, which was also her 42nd birthday.

Most astronauts choose to vote as Texas residents because they move to Houston for training, NASA said, though, that those who wish to vote as residents of their home state can make special arrangements. 

Ballots from the county where the astronaut is registered are tested on a space station training computer, then the real ballot is generated and uplinked to the ISS with crew-member-specific credentials to keep it secure. The completed ballot is electronically delivered back to Earth to be officially recorded.

“Voting in space has been possible since 1997 when a bill passed to legally allow voting from space in Texas,” NASA said in a statement. “Since then, several NASA astronauts have exercised this civic duty from orbit. As NASA works toward sending astronauts to the Moon in 2024 and eventually on to Mars, the agency plans to continue to ensure astronauts who want to vote in space are able to, no matter where in the solar system they may be.”

NASA had expected the US astronauts on the SpaceX Crew-1 mission to the ISS to join Rubins in voting from space, but their mission has been delayed until early- to mid-November, so they can now vote from Earth.


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Soyuz MS-17 delivers science experiments to ISS

Soyuz MS-17 delivers science experiments to ISS
Credit: NASA

The Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft arrived to the International Space Station just three hours after launch on 14 October, with Roscosmos astronauts Sergei Ryzhikov and Sergei Kud-Sverchkov and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins on board.


Aside from the human cargo, the Soyuz had space for some science, including one of ESA’s longest-running experiments, Dosis-3D.

Dotted around the International Space Station, these orange pouches collect information on radiation levels using a device called a dosimeter. The experiment, in different forms, has been monitoring radiation levels since 2009 and the current pouches are changed after each six-month crew rotation. This pouch has been placed on the left side on the Utility Interface Panel next to the Vacuum Connector on ESA’s Human Research Facility in ESA’s science laboratory Columbus.

Radiation levels in space can be 15 times higher than on Earth. As soon as humans leave the protective shield that is Earth’s atmosphere, space radiation becomes a serious concern. As we explore farther and head towards the Moon and even Mars on longer flights, defending ourselves against radiation becomes ever more important.

Dosis-3D helps researchers understand space radiation and how it penetrates the Space Station walls. Active and passive radiation detectors are used to map radiation in all modules, and will help designers and engineers make future spacecraft more resistant to radiation, such as the modules for the lunar Gateway.

Experiments like Dosis-3D often go overlooked as they sit passively in the corner, but as we approach the anniversary of 20 years of continuous habitation of the International Space Station, they are great examples of the kind of science that occurs on humankind’s outpost in space, and helps prepare for the future of human exploration.

The orange-wrapped dosimeters are about the size of a pack of playing cards and attach to the walls of the Space Station with Velcro. The detectors record how much radiation has been absorbed in total during the period they are in space.

In addition to the passive detectors shown, Dosis-3D uses active dosimeters that measure fluctuations in radiation levels over time. Data from all Station partners is shared to create as complete a picture of space radiation as possible.


Russia reports ‘non-standard’ air leak on Space Station


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