Scientists monitored a lot of activity on the outside of the International Space Station, beginning with the attachment of an important Earth observation payload on the station’s exterior surface.
The Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE III) is a key part of NASA’s mission to provide crucial, long-term measurements that will help humans understand and care for Earth’s atmosphere. Ground crews used a remote-controlled robotic arm to mount the experiment to the station’s hull for power-up and checkout. SAGE III measures Earth’s ozone, along with other gases and aerosols, in the atmosphere. The device takes measurements by observing the atmosphere on edge with the light of the sun or the moon shining through it.
When ozone breaks down, all inhabitants on Earth are affected. Humans, plants and animals are exposed to more harmful rays from the sun, which can cause long-term problems including cancer in humans and reduced crop yield. Data from the sensors on board will provide valuable insight to the stability of our atmosphere, but may also supply important information to future spacecraft designers and engineers about operating in the space environment.
A series of satellites were jettisoned from the station using the NanoRack CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD). Six LEMUR-2 satellites were released to help track ships on the open sea and monitor weather. They join a constellation of satellites that will eventually observe all the world’s oceans. Two Technology Education Satellites (TechEdSat) were also deployed to study a new system called the Exo-Brake, which uses a spacecraft’s own atmospheric drag to change its velocity and adjust its approach.
The NRCSD is a self-contained deployment system on the end of a robotic arm, called the JEM Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS), mounted to the exterior of the station. It is a rectangular compartment that “ejects” very small satellites to place them into orbit. It provides a low-cost and frequent flight opportunity for industry and academia to place research satellites into space.
NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough harvested a series of small plants grown on petri plates as part of the APEX-04 investigation. The plants were inserted into the Minus Eighty Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) for return on the Dragon capsule. Whitson then configured the facility for the next four-day growing cycle. The plants from the second cycle will be harvested and imaged under a microscope on the station.
The study continues a highly successful investigation into the effects of microgravity on the development of roots and cells of plant seedlings. This particular experiment is growing the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, or thale cress, in the Veggie facility, a low-cost plant growth chamber using a flat-panel light bank for plant growth and observation. After a short growth period, the plants are photographed, harvested and preserved for detailed analysis on Earth. This investigation studies the entire genome of thale cress plants grown in space, creating DNA maps of spaceflight-specific changes in certain groups of genes. Results will give new insight into plants’ molecular responses to spaceflight, which benefits efforts to grow plants in space for food and oxygen. Agricultural practices and bioenergy research on Earth may also benefit, helping design crops that can use resources, such as water and nutrients in the soil, more efficiently.
Progress was made on other investigations, outreach activities, and facilities this week, including Auxin Transport, Meteor, Tropical Cyclone, Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells, Rodent Research-4, ISS Ham Radio, Group Combustion, EML Batch 1, MAGVECTOR, BEAM, Radi-N2, Manufacturing Device, ExHAM #2 and NanoRacks Module-9.