The Expedition 66 crew is turning its attention to the U.S. Cygnus space freighter as it nears departure this weekend after 100 days berthed to the station’s Unity module. The astronauts are also preparing for a spacewalk to replace a faulty antenna system on the International Space Station.
NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari and Mark Vande Hei spent Wednesday afternoon packing Cygnus with trash and obsolete gear. ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer continued the cargo loading on Thursday. He will be at the robotics workstation monitoring its departure on Saturday at 11 a.m. EST. Robotics controllers remotely operating the Canadarm2 robotic arm from Earth will command Cygnus’ release live on NASA TV starting at 10:45 a.m.
Cygnus will have one more mission as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere for a fiery, but safe destruction above the Pacific Ocean. The Kentucky Re-entry Probe Experiment will deploy three capsules from Cygnus to collect and transmit thermal data from sensors embedded in heat shields. The data may help validate thermal protection systems in space and heat shield materials on Earth.
Meanwhile, Marshburn and NASA Flight Engineer Kayla Barron are due to exit the U.S. Quest airlock soon to swap the S-Band Antenna System with a spare already attached outside the station. Maurer will be at the controls of the Canadarm2 assisting the duo during the planned six-and-a-half hour spacewalk.
Marshburn and Barron were joined by NASA Flight Engineers Raja Chari and Mark Vande Hei inside Quest on Thursday as they tried on their U.S. spacesuits for a fit check. Chari and Vande Hei will be on duty monitoring the two astronauts during the spacewalk and helping them in and out of their spacesuits. A news conference to discuss the spacewalk activities has been scheduled for Monday, Nov. 29.
Science was back on track Thursday with the crew exploring human research, botany, and space physics. Chari and Barron tested how astronauts perceive up and down movements and grip and manipulate objects In microgravity. Vande Hei cleaned up debris around chile peppers growing inside the Advanced Plant Habitat. Finally, station Commander Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos swapped samples inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox for a physics study seeking to improve the production of higher quality semiconductor crystals.