Space Station Sunday: Racing The Sunshine, Skirting A Storm

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's all the latest from just outside the atmosphere.

This week, the second of three October spacewalks (a.k.a. EVAs - extravehicular activities) was carried out by NASA astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Reid Wiseman.  NASA reported that the six-hour, 34-minute spacewalk was successful, with the astronauts replacing a failed power regulator while in the shadow of the Earth.  It was critical that their mission be carried out in shadow, as the station's solar panels would otherwise be generating electricity, which would not prove to be a "bright side" for the astronauts working with the new power regulator.

According to the Telegraph UK, the power failed on Wiseman's PGT (pistol grip tool) while he was working with the bolt-on generator, forcing him to use a rachet wrench.  Wiseman had to "apply a little muscle", as live NASA TV broadcaster Rob Navias remarked, but thanks to Wiseman's efforts the mission was concluded successfully with less than two minutes to spare.  The astronauts also made strides in adapting the station's exterior for the arrival of future crew vehicles and cargo craft, as well as installing a replacement exterior video camera.

On a spacewalk, it is much more difficult for the camera to capture your "good side."
(Image courtesy

The numerous spacewalks, though they have included routine repairs, are not indicative of any major issues regarding the ISS's components.  Quite the opposite, in fact...earlier this year it was announced that the ISS will remain operational until 2024.  As reported by the Washington Post, the head of NASA’s human spaceflight program, William H. Gerstenmaier, said that “we see no technical show stoppers” with the ISS's machinery, which will remain spaceworthy even up through 2028.

Unlike earth-bound ships, the ISS doesn't have to worry about deterioration due to crazy (if conventional) weather patterns.  It sure does get a good look at them, though.  This week, European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst captured an image of Hurricane Gonzalo that appeared tumultuous from the top.  It wasn't quite as creepy as last week's images of Supertyphoon Vongfong, but provided a unique meteorological perspective nonetheless.

Check out more of Gerst's ISS imagery on his Twitter, @Astro_Alex.
(Image courtesy

Gerst's tracking of Gonzalo was not just in the name of art - the storm's behavior did affect the ISS's science operations for the week.  The Bermuda-based Gonzalo proved to be problematic for the launch of new unmanned shipment of cargo bound for the ISS from Wallops Island in Virginia.  According to, the launch of an Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo craft has been pushed back from later this week until after October 27th.

The hurricane will not affect the return of the SpaceX Dragon capsule, which is currently being packed with almost 3,000 pounds of scientific experiments and other cargo from the ISS.  One experiment, the Commerical Protein Crystal Growth HM, could lend interesting insights as to how cells recognize and react with each other regarding immune responses.  The unmanned Dragon, the only craft currently capable of safely transporting such a payload back to Earth, will leave the ISS on Tuesday morning and splash down in the Pacific Ocean some six hours later.

Meanwhile, Russia's first female cosmonaut, Yelena Serova, has been busy during her first few weeks on the space station.  On her blog for Roscosmos (Russia's space agency), Serova explained, “I’m getting used to living in microgravity conditions. I exercise regularly, and conduct scientific experiments as well...Last week I’ve spent much time on doing exercises regarding reacting in emergency situations like fire or depressurization, for example.”

The science experiments she spoke of, according to Spaceflight Insider, are diverse.  The Kardiovektor experiment, for example, examines how prolonged spaceflight affects the right and left ventricles of the human heart in regards to circulation capability.  Another experiment of this nature examines spaceflight's effects on calcium and bone density.  This week, Serova also performed a life-support system check on the Russian service module Zvezda, and completed an equipment check on the Otklik experiment, which uses piezoelectric sensors to analyze the impact of space debris on the exterior of the station.

Flight Engineer Serova, pictured, studied the laws of physics even during her downtime while on Earth.
(Image courtesy

Next week:  news on the third October spacewalk, this time featuring 100% more cosmonauts!  Watch this space!