Tuesday was a busy day aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as the 11 crew members split their time between advanced space research and maintenance of the orbital lab. Four astronauts also began turning their attention to returning home to Earth, ending a mission that began in April.
Two of the new Expedition 68 crewmates focused their science activities on growing crops in space and maneuvering free-flying robots. For the XROOTS space botany study, NASA Flight Engineer Frank Rubio nourished vegetables and photographed their growth progress. The experiment investigates using hydroponic and aeroponic techniques to support crop growth and sustain astronauts living in microgravity. Astronaut Koichi Wakata from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) turned on the Astrobee robotic free-flyers and observed as the toaster-sized devices carried out image processing and laser pointing tasks using pre-programmed algorithms.
First-time NASA Flight Engineers Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada spent most of their day on maintenance and crew orientation activities. Mann collected a water sample and replaced a sensor in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module’s oxygen generation system. Cassada swapped components on the station’s bathroom, or Waste and Hygiene Compartment, and later joined Rubio and reviewed how to install and remove helmets on the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuits. Mann and Cassada also trained on the operation of station exercise gear including the Destiny module’s exercise bike and the COLBERT treadmill.
Four astronauts are preparing to return to Earth soon aboard the SpaceX Dragon Freedom crew ship. The foursome consisting of Freedom Commander Kjell Lindgren, Pilot Bob Hines and Mission Specialists Jessica Watkins and Samantha Cristoforetti spent Tuesday packing up cargo and personal items, charging computer tablets, and downloading deorbit data necessary to target Freedom’s reentry into Earth’s atmosphere and splashdown off the coast of Florida.
Watch the four departing astronauts’ farewell remarks from the space station:
The three cosmonauts onboard the ISS focused on station research and lab upkeep tasks on Tuesday. Two-time station visitor Sergey Prokopyev worked on computer hardware and then researched how international crews and mission controllers can improve interactions. First-time space flyer Dmitri Petelin checked the Zvezda service module’s ventilation system and then studied advanced Earth photography methods. New Flight Engineer Anna Kikina, who has been aboard the station less than a week, explored future spacecraft and robotic piloting techniques and later joined Petelin for the Earth photography session.