May 2022 was an eventful and important month for the future of the International Space Station and the Commercial Crew program that is designed to support it. The astronauts of the SpaceX Crew 3 mission returned to Earth aboard the Crew Dragon Endurance after handing over operations to the recently arrived Crew 4 members.
The Boeing Starliner also made its long-awaited first arrival on the ISS. NASA intends to extend the station program through 2030 while ISS crew members conducted their usual experimental and maintenance activities, even as geopolitical tensions on the ground intensified. May began with Crew-3 astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and Matthias Maurer handing off station responsibilities directly to newly arrived Crew-4 astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, Jessica Watkins, and Samantha Cristoforetti.During the Crew-4 astronauts familiarized themselves with the space station and collected basic data about themselves for human research programs, Crew-3 packed the Crew Dragon Endurance with experiment samples and other cargo for the journey home.
The Crew-3 astronauts were also busy conducting final human biology experiments and conducting refresher training in water spray procedures. Each member of both crews continued to train two hours a day, performing various scientific and maintenance tasks. The day before Crew-3 departed, the traditional change of command ceremony took place when outgoing ISS Commander Tom Marshburn handed the station over to Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev. who came aboard the ISS in Soyuz MS-21 in March. Artemyev, a three-flight veteran, will command the station and Expedition 67 crew through this fall.
Crew Dragon Endurance has successfully reentered Earth’s atmosphere. It splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico west of Tampa, Florida in the very early hours of May 6. The Crew-3 astronauts were quickly transported to Houston while time-sensitive cargo was offloaded during the spacecraft’s first few hours on Earth.
The Crew 4 astronauts settled aboard the station. They began preparations for the arrival of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft on its critical Orbital Flight Test-2 mission. At the same time, they went about their usual daily routine of photography, experimentation, and maintenance, interspersed with public affairs and amateur radio events.
In mid-May, prior to the Starliner OFT-2 flight, the astronauts had to solve a problem that kept the toilet facility of the US segments’ waste and hygiene compartment out of service for two days and successfully restored it to service on May 14. The WHC Problem was caused by the cap seal blocking the flow path at the pretreatment tank connector after preventive maintenance was performed on May 12th. The astronauts also had to work with the training devices.
They performed the six-month and yearly maintenance tasks for the Treadmill 2, including inspecting hoses, umbilical fairing, bungee shackle key holder marks, treadmill slats and bolts, vacuuming inside the frame, and lubricating axles. The ARED resistance exerciser also had various issues that needed repairs during the month, including frayed ropes and a cable that came loose from its lock ) continued to work on an issue with the attachment of one of the endpoints of the European Robotic Arm (ERA) on Base arm attachment point 3 mounted on the Nauka module. The ERA tried unsuccessfully to latch on to the attachment point on May 5 and was forced to move to a parked position while on-site specialists worked on the analysis and a forward plan of action.
Also on the Russian segment, the Progress MS-18 spacecraft performed an 11-minute, 25-second restart on Saturday, May 14 to prepare the ISS for the June 3 arrival of Progress MS-20. The total rate of change of the burns was 1.1 meters per second. At 18:54 EDT (22:54 UTC) on May 19, the Boeing Starliner, also known as CST-100, lifted off on an Atlas V N22 on the long-delayed and International Space Station vital unmanned mission Orbital Test Flight-2 . Unlike Starliner’s previous flight in December 2019, the vehicle was cleared to go to the station after entering good orbit on its OMACS engines.
Despite problems with two OMACS engines and moisture in the spacecraft’s cooling circuits, Starliner completed its rendezvous with the ISS. Docking had to be delayed due to a problem with the deployment of the spacecraft’s docking system, but controllers on the ground restarted it. After redeployment, the system worked successfully and allowed the spacecraft to dock with the ISS for the first time.
The Starliner docked with the Pressurized Mating Adapter-2 (PMA-2) on the front port of the Harmony module (Node 2) on the ISS in May at 20:28 EDT (May 21 00:28 UTC) after a one-day Journey to the station, and a series of tests en route that ensured Starliner could approach the ISS and dock safely mate to the shuttle-era PMA-2 docking port, remained undisturbed until the next day, when the astronauts met Kjell Lindgren and Bob Hines prepared to enter the crew module.
The module contained five hundred pounds of cargo, mostly food and non-critical items, while the Rosie the Rocketeer male and a Jebediah Kerman plush Zero-G indicator were also on board the spacecraft. At 12:04 pm EDT (16:04 UTC) on May 21, astronauts opened the hatch for Starliner. Lindgren and Hines entered the spacecraft wearing masks as a precaution against airborne dust and debris that may have entered the spacecraft during ground preparation. They were able to remove the masks after realizing that the air inside Starliner was free of pollutants.
Starliner was put into sleep mode while the Expedition 67 crew continued to work on their experiment and maintenance schedule over the next few days. Hibernation is key to allowing the spacecraft to support a six-month rotation on the ISS, and the capability was one of many being tested on Starliner during OFT-2. After almost five days docked with the ISS, Starliner was successfully undocked on May 25th.
The spacecraft backed away from the station and out of its vicinity while air traffic controllers on the ground prepared for the critical deorbit burn and reentry before a land landing in White Sands, New Mexico. Starliner successfully deorbited using the remaining OMAC engines at 6:05 a.m. EDT (22:05 UTC) with a one-minute burn.
The spacecraft reentered the atmosphere near Baja California before landing on its deployed airbags under three good parachutes at 18:49 EDT (22:49 UTC) on the evening of May 25. Before Starliner departed the ISS, the Expedition 67 crew left loaded with 600 pounds of return cargo, including three nitrogen-oxygen booster system tanks that provide the ISS with breathing air.
These tanks will be refurbished and flown back to the ISS on a future flight. Re-entry and landing went well with the only concern being the failure of a pair of RCS engines on the crew module. Other engines on the module worked to stabilize the spacecraft.
The Starliner spacecraft itself will be transported back to Cape Canaveral and prepared for the first crewed operational flight to the ISS, while the Starliner spacecraft that flew the original OFT mission in December 2019 is being prepared for the Crew Flight Test demo. Celebrating the success of the OFT-2 flight, officials from Boeing and NASA stated that there was no reason not to move on to the manned CFT demonstration flight, which NASA is currently targeting for the end of the year have occurred, such as B. Problems with the cooling circuit and the engines will be checked before permission to proceed is given.
Naming of the CFT crew is not expected until later this summer, and officials have said they are several months away from a decision on CFT approval and launch date. Starliner would join SpaceX Crew Dragon as the spacecraft that would launch crews from the United States, and it provides a vital backup capability for NASA crew transport should a problem result in a Crew Dragon or Falcon 9- Launcher should lead for a long time. The only other crew option to the ISS is currently the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and launch vehicle, operated from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
During the month of May, several experiments were conducted aboard the orbiting complex that could prove important for future human space missions, as well as future improvements in life on Earth. There is also new data showing an association with the risk of cardiovascular disease, aging of the carotid artery, insulin resistance, bone metabolism and blood biomarkers, and radiation. Astronauts will undergo artery ultrasounds, blood draws, and their wearable sensors will be analyzed to gather more information, among other things.
The XROOTS (eXposed Root On-Orbit Test System) tested ways to grow plants without soil or other growing media using hydroponic and aeroponic technologies. Astronauts worked much of the corn with this experiment, although problems with microbial growth on two cartridges resulted in those cartridges having to be discarded. It is hoped that this experiment will lead to ways to grow taller plants for longer space missions.
The Astrobee experiment with three cube-shaped free-flying robots was also tested in May. The autonomous robots, which use fans for propulsion and vision-based navigation, can be used to monitor astronauts and provide eyes and ears for mission control inside the station. They can also be used to assist astronauts with tasks and conduct sampling.
Other experiments crew members have been working on over the month included a nutrition monitoring experiment (NutrISS), the Cold Atom Lab, which can generate atomic clouds cooled to about a tenth. billionths of a degree above absolute zero, two advanced Raspberry Pi computers with visible or infrared cameras that can monitor the ISS environment and movement through space, as well as crystal growth in transparent liquids, and many other experiments.
The Expedition 67 crew also helped investigate the US EVA-80 anomaly that occurred on March 23 when water leaked from Matthias Maurer’s spacesuit, eventually covering 30-50% of its faceplate. The pad placed in the spacesuit in 2013 after Luca Parmitano’s near call was found damp. EVAs from the US segment have been suspended until the investigation is complete and the issues that caused the water leak have been resolved. On May 26, the crew conducted tests on the EMU helmet to study how water forms inside to try to find the source of the leak.
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