Space Station Sunday: Spacewalks, Part III

Good morning, space fans!  Here's what's been up (260 miles up) this week.

A successful spacewalk, the third in as many weeks for the current ISS crew, was completed on Wednesday.  According to, Russian cosmonauts Max Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev, who are both EVA (extravehicular activity) veterans, spent 3 hours and 38 minutes outside the ISS.

Cosmonaut Maxim Suraev has got this spacewalking thing down.  And up.  And sideways.
(Image courtesy

The two cosmonauts took photos, jettisoned old experiments and equipment, and collected samples for analysis of a mysterious growth on the exterior of the Russian modules (the substance is thought to be microbes or propellant word on alien gardening projects yet.)

Even if the substance did prove unpleasant, it's likely nothing the ISS astronauts haven't dealt with already.  Samples of MRSA, e.coli, and salmonella are among the pathogens that get studied in microgravity (where their structure and growth may be altered.)  Certain behaviors the diseases exhibit during their stay on the ISS could lead to different discoveries in combating them back on earth.

Speaking of back on earth, the unmanned SpaceX Dragon capsule (which had ferried supplies to the ISS in late September) has been returned to sender, chock full of completed science experiments.  It splashed down in the Pacific Ocean some 300 miles west of Baja, California, on Saturday afternoon.

"AIR MAIL!"  The SpaceX Dragon leaves the ISS, bound for Baja.
(Image courtesy

The Dragon, which had carried up a Rapid Scatterometer (for use in earth science monitoring) as well as a 3D printer, carried back gear that was just as important.  An arugula plant growth study was undertaken to examine how plants might be grown to optimum nutrient-density in microgravity environments (which could be a big help on future long-distance spaceflights.)  Another experiment, the Rodent Research-1, aided in the understanding of how microgravity affects various biological functions. 

Sam Scimemi, director of the International Space Station division at NASA Headquarters, stated, “This mission enabled research critical to achieving NASA’s goal of long-duration human spaceflight in deep space...Investigations in the returned cargo could aid in the development of more efficient solar cells and semiconductor-based electronics, the development of plants better suited for space, and improvements in sustainable agriculture.”

Even more good gear is expected to reach the ISS soon, with the launch of a Cygnus spacecraft aboard an Antares rocket on Monday.  The Cygnus, an unmanned cargo craft developed by NASA-contracted Orbital Sciences Corp., will launch from the Wallops flight facility in Virginia, bearing nearly 5,000 pounds of payload.  According to NASA, it contains "science experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and experiment hardware."  It will arrive next Sunday after a "grapple" with the ISS's Canadian-made robotic arm, the "Canadarm", manned by astronauts Reid Wiseman and Barry Wilmore from the ISS cupola (that's the cool room with all the windows.)  This Cygnus upholds a NASA tradition of being named for a previous astro-adventurer, and is thus dubbed the SS Deke Slayton, after the Mercury 7 astronaut and Apollo-Soyuz Test Mission crewman.

More news to follow next week, as the Cygnus and other cargo vehicles arrive!  Maybe one of them will ferry up a delivery of some well-deserved Halloween candy, like a reverse trick-or-treat.  Until then, watch this space!  

The view from the ISS cupola, as captured this week by astronaut Alexander Gerst.
The green glow is the aurora borealis, which Gerst said was "completely engulfing us" before the sun appeared.
The captivation of the cupola is constant, for obvious reasons.

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