Dragon’s Final Countdown: ISS Crew’s Pre-Departure Frenzy and the Cygnus Curveball

Thrusters Fire on SpaceX Dragon Cargo Spacecraft

Thrusters on the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft fire automatically while adjusting the vehicle’s slow, methodical approach toward the International Space Station for a docking to the Harmony module’s forward port. Credit: NASA

The Expedition 70 crew is packing a U.S. cargo craft ahead of its planned Wednesday departure. The seven residents aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are also keeping up their regularly scheduled research and maintenance activities.

NASA astronauts Loral O’Hara and Jasmin Moghbeli worked together on Tuesday morning to remove biological specimens from the Destiny laboratory module, stowing them in transporters, then installing the science cargo inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft. Afterward, O’Hara wrapped up her day with a vision test reading characters off a standard eye chart found in a doctor’s office on Earth. Moghbeli treated brain cell-like samples to understand neurodegenerative processes at a molecular and cellular level.

Expedition 70 Flight Engineers Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O'Hara

Expedition 70 Flight Engineers (from left) Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara, both from NASA, pose for a portrait inside the Destiny laboratory module following the successful docking of the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Astronauts Andreas Mogensen and Satoshi Furukawa continued the cargo transfers during the afternoon packing and securing a variety of hardware inside Dragon for analysis and retrieval on Earth. Mogensen from ESA (European Space Agency) earlier serviced numerous science components including charging virtual reality hardware, loading software on a fluorescence microscope, and setting up the Life Science Glovebox for Moghbeli’s sampling work. Furukawa from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) installed new gas bottles on combustion research gear located inside the Kibo laboratory module.

Working in the Roscosmos segment of the orbital outpost, cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko activated a 3D printer to explore printing tools and supplies in microgravity. Flight Engineer Nikolai Chub tested a radio communications antenna and then studied ways space crews and ground controllers from around the world can communicate more effectively. Flight Engineer Konstantin spent his morning on orbital plumbing tasks then worked during the afternoon inspecting windows in the Zvezda service module and disinfecting surfaces inside the Nauka science module.

SpaceX Cargo Dragon Resupply Ship Departing Space Station

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship is pictured departing the station in September of 2021 during a previous cargo mission. Credit: NASA

Following a weather review about 24 hours prior to undocking, NASA and SpaceX now are targeting no earlier than 9:05 p.m. EST Wednesday, December 20, for the undocking of the company’s 29th Dragon commercial resupply services mission from the International Space Station.

Coverage of Dragon’s departure Wednesday will begin at 8:45 p.m. on the NASA+ streaming service via the web or the NASA app. Coverage also will air live on NASA Television, YouTube, and on the agency’s website. Learn how to stream NASA TV through a variety of platforms including social media.

Additional undock and return opportunities are continuing to be considered as joint teams work to identify the best autonomous undocking and return weather conditions as a cold front passes through the splashdown zones off the coast of Florida. More updates will be made following the next weather review about 12 hours prior to Dragon undocking from the space station.

After re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft will splash down off the coast of Florida, which will not be broadcast on NASA TV.

Northrop Grumman’s Cymbal-Shaped Solar Array Contrasts a Bahamas Backdrop

In the foreground, the golden cymbal-shaped solar array of Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft is partially illuminated by the Sun and shadowed by other exterior station hardware. Below it, the teal waters of the Bahamas create a contrasting backdrop. The International Space Station was orbiting 259 miles above as this image was taken. Credit: NASA

With the changes to Dragon’s space station operations, NASA and Northrop Grumman now are targeting a Friday, December 22, for the departure of the Cygnus spacecraft from the orbital complex.

Coverage of Cygnus departure Friday will begin at 7:45 a.m. ahead of the robotic release of the spacecraft at 8:05 a.m. on the NASA+ streaming service via the web or the NASA app. Coverage also will air live on NASA Television, YouTube, and on the agency’s website.

Cygnus will conduct secondary payload operations following unberthing and complete a safe and harmless re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere where it will harmlessly burn up over the Pacific Ocean.

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