Tag: Samantha Cristoforetti

Safe journey back, Samantha!

Safe journey back, Samantha! This time it seems to be true: the mission of Samantha and her colleagues Terry Virts and Anton Shkaplerov will end 11 June after 199,7 days. Only 8 hours short of 200 days. Wednesday at 16:40, with almost a day in advance, Terry handed over the command of the Space Station to Gennady Padalka.
200 days in space. Credits: ESA/NASA

200 days in space. Credits: ESA/NASA

Thursday is the day of return. It is an early start before they close the hatch behind them once in the Soyuz capsule. This will be at around 8:55 CEST. At this point a series of checks and tests of their return vehicle will last for a few orbits. Around 12:20 CEST, the three astronauts leave Space Station: it is time for the so-called undocking. The Soyuz  “drops its moorings” and starts to fall, moving to a different orbit from the International Space Station. The return journey is effectively nothing more than a fall to the Earth in a controlled manner. After a few orbits, the most important moment comes: the Soyuz turns the engines on and gives the final push to start its deorbit at around 14:51. It then dives into the atmosphere. Soon after, two of the three modules that make up the Soyuz are discarded: the orbital module and the propulsion module have finished their task and are no longer needed. Only the landing module remains, protected by a heat shield. When it enters the more dense layers of the atmosphere, the module will be akin to a comet on fire, surrounded by glowing plasma. About 20 minutes from landing, scheduled for 15:43, the spacecraft manoeuvres to reduce its speed. Inside eight minutes it will slow to 800 km/h. 15 minutes before landing, four parachutes open: first two followed by two more in quick succession slowing the capsule to about 30 km / h. Just a second before landing, four small engines light up, like spaceships in science fiction movies, and slow the speed to impact to about 5 km/h. Despite being a bumpy ride, the astronaut’s is important: to make the reentry softer their seats are moulded to fit them perfectly, like protective nests. Despite this, there is no point in denying it: the return is no stroll in the park. Shocks, tears, decelerations: astronauts spend the last moments of their mission subjected to violent deceleration, rediscovering the meaning of weight. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield recounted how he was surprised to feel the weight of his tongue and lips, and that even talking felt different after his months in space. Knowing Samantha, and her communication skills, we are not panicking: she will be able to continue to talk as she did before! Safe journey home! Timeline Times in Central European Summer Time:
  • 8:55 Expedition 43 hatch closing
  • 12:18 Undocking command to open hooks and latches
  • 12:20 Undocking – Hooks open and physical separation of Soyuz TMA-15M
  • 12:23 Separation burn 1, an 8-second burn of the Soyuz engines, .60 m/s
  • 12:24 Separation burn 2, a 30-second burn of the Soyuz engines, 1.45 m/s
  • 14:51 Deorbit burn lasting 4:35, 128 m/s. Soyuz is now around 12 km from the International Space Station at 401.8 km altitude
  • 15:18 Separation of Modules at 140 km altitude
  • Landing site. Credits: NASA

    Landing site. Credits: NASA

    15:26 Maximum loads on the astronauts up to five times normal gravity at 36.5 km altitude
  • 15:28 Command to open parachutes at 10.7 km. Two Pilot Parachutes are first deployed, the second of which extracts the drogue chute, slowing the Soyuz down from a descent rate of 230 m/s to 80 m/s. The Main Parachute is then released, slowing the Soyuz to a 7.2 m/s. The Soyuz descends at an angle of 30 degrees to expel heat, then shifts to a straight vertical descent.
  • 15:43 Touchdown after engine firing to slow the Soyuz down to 1.5 m/s around 80 cm above ground.
Landing site: about 145 km southeast of Dzhezkazgan. Landing will occur approximately 1 hour, 34 minutes before sunset at the landing site in Kazakhstan.    

Don't panic


I’m a plumber by profession

If I had some more free time – oh how I wish…! – if I had more free time and I had finished my home construction, landscaped the garden and my children were grown-up and no longer require my parenting, then I could finally read up on game theory. Or maybe learn to play the guitar, or drum. I might investigate what is happening in the field of electron microscopy – maybe even do a little more sports? Sitting on the sofa and try hard to not do anything might be an option too.
Columbus module. Credits: ESA/NASA

Columbus module. Credits: ESA/NASA

In all likelihood I would run out of time due to sheer recreational stress… The situation on the Space Station is comparable these days: Three of the astronauts on the International Space Station have had their return to Earth delayed so we unexpectedly had additional crew time for them. This does not mean that Samantha and company were finally able to fully enjoy the great view of the Earth, because here at the control centre we have a long wish list of things that we want done. We recently moved to Node 3 the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), which was designed as a transport container for the Space Shuttle and left attached to Node 2 after the end of the Shuttle era. This move offers extra storage space so that Node 2 has an extra docking port for future visiting vehicles. We also finally exchanged the old-style video tape recorder in Columbus for a modern hard disk recorder. Water valve fixing Samantha faced exchanging a water valve, which had not been functioning as expected for some time now on Friday: we put the extensive activities on her timeline and it kept her busy. Samantha had to start work the day before by reconfiguring the Columbus module as the water valve is hidden behind panels next to the hatch and blocked by an experiment rack. So Samantha first had prepare the “Express rack 3” to tilt it away to enable access to the valve. Many cables and pipes had to be removed for power, nitrogen, as well as the venting and vacuum lines, video connections and data lines.
Anna Pateraki on the STRATOS console supporting the work from ground. Credits: DLR

Anna Pateraki on the STRATOS console supporting the work from ground. Credits: DLR

On Friday, Samantha had to tilt the rack forward into the cabin, which was easy to do in weightlessness. She now had access to the area where the water valves are in Columbus and could remove the Nomex cover. We were now looking into Columbus’s innards. Columbus needs to be actively cooled as some hardware produces heat which is removed by water. In addition the air of the module must be cooled: air conditioning in space! Lastly humidity is an issue, astronauts sweat like everyone else and the water in the air must be kept within limits. Condensation would be a serious problem, especially in areas where electrical current is present. Therefore we use our cooling-water system to force condensation in a special device that cools the air and dehumidifies it before sending the collected water to the American recycling system. Columbus has two water pumps to do all this and various mechanisms to adjust the temperature of the water coupled with two heat exchangers that transfer absorbed heat to the outer ammonia cooling circuit, from where the heat is radiated into space. Of course that requires a lot of valves, for water shutoff, mixing or bypassing, and today Samantha was looking to replace the cleverly-named “Water-On-Off Valve 6” which we call WOOV6. Naturally the Columbus Control Centre made sure no more water flowed through that valve – in addition we allowed it to warm slightly: we didn’t want to ask the Italian astronaut to put on winter gloves for this operation. With the Express Rack 3 tilted, normal air circulation was disrupted – meaning the smoke detectors could not monitor all areas of the module and the astronauts had to be “prime for smoke detection”.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield also did some do-it-yourself in Columbus. Credits: NASA

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield also did some do-it-yourself in Columbus. Credits: NASA

With these prerequisites Samantha was “go” to start the 28-page procedure to replace the valve. For the next four hours the astronaut acted as Do-It-Yourselfer: she inspected the new WOOV, set up her workplace, investigated the old WOOV and took pictures of it, unplugged it in order: electric connections, water pipes – and eventually started to pull it out. Once installed she put in the new valve, insulated it and turned it on… In between there was a brief but hectic moment when Sam informed us that one of the quick-release fasteners was leaking. Water floating about the cabin is always something that we do not appreciate at all. We quickly got the situation under control though and she mopped up the spilled water. It was already evening in Europe before we could finally switch on the new valve for the first time from ground control. We let out a sigh of relief together with the engineers in Turin and Bremen – to misquote Galileo Galilei: “And yet it moves!” Well done – summer is here and it is important that cooling systems work… 😉

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Samantha overtakes Sunita as holder of longest spaceflight for women

Sunita Williams during spacewalk. Credits: NASA

Sunita Williams during spacewalk. Credits: NASA

Since Saturday 6 June at around 16:21 CET (14:21 GMT) ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti holds the record for the longest single mission for a woman. NASA astronaut Sunita Williams previously held that record with 195 days after Expedition 33 on the International Space Station. Sunita remains the record-holder for number of spacewalks done by a woman (seven), including the most time spend on spacewalks in total for a woman at 50 hours, 40 minutes. Samantha’s Futura mission was extended after a problem with a Progress supply ferry. She already broke the record of longest single mission for an ESA astronaut last week.

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Cooking in space at the Restaurant at the end of the universe

Six month have passed already since the beginning the Futura mission and Node 1, our personal “Restaurant at the end of the universe” has witnessed many space meals, with dishes rehydrated or heated in our food warmer. Usually our dishes are ready to eat or at least very easy to assemble: quick and easy! Did I mention already that my favorite dish is the wonderful quinoa salad with mackerel by Stefano Polato, the official chef of the Futura mission and of Outpost42? But the curry chicken with mushrooms and peas is great as well. They are full meals, healthy and delicious! I took with me a pretty good supply of read-to-eat pouches, but I also have the ingredients in separate pouches: it’s possible to assemble them onboard, although it can be quite a challenge in weightlessness. Take a look!

It’s a bit of work, for sure, but I enjoy being able to change the quantities of the different ingredients a bit to vary the overall taste. I simply recreated the recipes of our chef Stefano, because I’m not a very creative cook. But maybe you have some ideas to suggest for my very last week onboard? Maybe a meal according to the principles we’ve been talking about on Outpost42. Here are my favorite ingredients here onboars, some from my bonus food and some from the ISS standard menu. Why don’t you try your recipe at home and send us a picture? Then we can see the difference making them in space. Or, if you’re prefer, you can create the Futura space recipes in your home kitchen. It’s easy, here Stefano showed me how to prepare them. And don’t forget to send us a picture! (On twitter with the hashtag #SpaceFoodAtHome or if you prefer Facebook just post them as a comment to this post). Power bar with Goji, chocolate and spirulina
Whole red rice with turmeric chicken
Quinoa salad with mackerel and vegetables

It's rocket fuel


How lipid fat can be good: omega-3 as a source of energy.

Imagine you ate nothing but fast food for a whole month, three times a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner), you could even stop all exercise. Do you think it is impossible? It can be done but it certainly is bad for your health. In the 2004 documentary “Super Size Me” Morgan Spurlock, did exactly that to show the physical and psychological effects of such a diet. At the end of the experiment, the director put on 11 kg (his starting weight being  84 kg) increasing his body mass by 13%.

This is an extreme scenario, but disturbing nonetheless, especially when you consider that many people regularly eat so-called junk food. However, it would be equally wrong to completely give up fat. In fact, “good” fats form an important supply of energy for the body and play different roles in our body; for example polyunsaturated fatty acids omega-3 are essential for the proper functioning of our nervous system.

The good fats are beneficial both on Earth and in space. Without adequate precautions, spaceflight can have many negative effects on human physiology, such as loss of muscle and bone mass. However, a diet rich in food that contains omega-3 (such as oily fish), can slow this mechanism and help maintain bone mineral density.

Beyond the preservation of muscles, bones and immune function, omega-3 may play a role in cancer prevention and in countering the effects of radiation during long-duration missions. The first studies on animals seem to show a positive outcome in this regard. Furthermore, depression and personality disorders have been associated with the lack of such fats. In fact, these fatty acids could affect not only the cognitive functions, but also mood and emotional state.

Dr. Filippo Ongaro

Challenge | Fats and cardiovascular risk


Spotting the Solar eclipse on the Space Station

Map of ISS compared to solar ecclipse. Credits: G. Holtkamp

Map of ISS in relation to solar eclipse. Credits: G. Holtkamp

This Friday, parts of the northern hemisphere will be shrouded in darkness as the Moon moves in between the Sun and the Earth.

For ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and her crewmates on the International Space Station don’t have to worry about clouds getting in the way of their view. From their orbit above Earth 400 km high they will have a great view of the eclipse.

From around 09:00 UTC the Moon will block alot of the Sunlight from reaching the International Space Station, just missing a total eclipse

Here is what the Earth looks like during a solar eclipse. The shadow of the Moon can be seen darkening part of Earth. This shadow moved across the Earth at nearly 2000 kilometers per hour. Credit: Mir 27 Crew; Copyright: CNES

Moon’s shadow on Earth during eclipse seen from Russian Mir station in 1999. The shadow moved across our planet at nearly 2000 kilometers an hour.
Credit: Mir 27 Crew; Copyright: CNES

Aside from looking up at the Solar eclipse, Samantha will have another interesting view: if she looks down at Earth she will see the shadow the Moon casts on the clouds and ground. In 1999 astronauts on the Russian space station MIR took this eclipse picture with the spectacular shadow of the Moon on our planet.

At the time of the Solar eclipse Samantha will be working on the Triplelux experiment that is investigating how immune cells adapt to spaceflight. To run this experiment she will put immune cells in a centrifuge and put them 90 minutes later in the Space Station’s freezer for analysis back on Earth.

Samantha using centrifuge in preparation for the  Triplelux experiment.

Samantha using centrifuge in preparation for the Triplelux experiment.

If the experiment runs smoothly Samantha might have time between the two operations to grab a camera and float to the Cupola observatory to take pictures and video of the eclipse.

For us on Earth, we will have to hope for clear skies and follow Samantha on Twitter via @AstroSamantha.

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Breathe in …the Airway Monitoring Experiment.

I remember clearly the long discussions we had when I worked as a lifeguard many years ago: should we give heart patients in need “nitroglycerine spray”? On the one hand, the nitro spray can provide fast relief to people suffering from heart conditions – on the other hand it can quickly drop a patient’s blood pressure, which should be avoided at all costs in an emergency. We decided against it – and we took the right decision.

A nitroglycerin spray acts on nitric oxide which is produced by the human body itself and is a good indicator of airway inflammation: a higher amount of nitric oxide in exhaled air indicates an inflammation. How this works exactly and how air pressure and gravity-influenced blood flow can affect readings were researched in the complex “Airway Monitoring” experiment last Friday on the Space Station.

The results are important for basic medical research and for future manned missions to other celestial bodies. Moon and Mars dust is very aggressive so not only do mechanical parts that are exposed need to be prepared, experts are also having headaches about how to protect the human respiratory tract. Inevitably dust will collect in air locks and spacesuits in the air of lunar or Mars stations. In these cases it will be important to get early signs of airway inflammation…

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and NASA astronaut Terry Virts had begun preparations for the experiment on Thursday. They brought the equipment into the Quest airlock, which is usually used as a door to the outside of the International Space Station. Barry Wilmore as Crew Medical Officer was also briefed to standby his colleagues during the experiment.

On Friday, the experiment started with Samantha and Terry started to reduce the pressure in the American airlock. The complicated procedures for this were developed through international teamwork. The expertise of the Danish DAMEC Center worked with flight surgeons, the team in Houston that controls the airlock, and us at Oberpfaffenhofen. At the Columbus Control Centre Katja Leuoth and Marius Bach supported the astronauts from the control room. This support was important as the astronauts needed support for such a complex experiment. The ground team found solutions in real-time for some questions, others needed more in-depth study and analysis. Now it is over to the scientists: the data must be processed and evaluated – and a decision must be made to continue with more experiment runs. The Columbus Control Centre will be ready to put the astronauts back in the airlock to answer their questions and pave the way for future missions landing in “thin air”…


More information here: https://plus.google.com/+SamanthaCristoforetti/posts/MtNoDoiRMfZ https://plus.google.com/+SamanthaCristoforetti/posts/boWGMq3mPgX http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2015/03/Samantha_working_on_Airway_Monitoring

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A walk around space with Barry and Terry

After 91 days of living in their new home in space they finally went outside Not to catch some fresh air of course…that would be quit dangerous!

US astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts commenced the first of three spacewalks  last Saturday. It was Barry’s second spacewalk after his first one last October and Terry’s first.

The two astronauts, already nicknamed the ‘cable guys’  have to rig cables on the International Space Station for new docking ports for commercial and international spacecraft called International Docking Adapters or IDA. They will be delivered on two Space-X  Dragon spacecraft in the near future.

The adapters are built by Boeing and will arrive separately as Dragon cargo that will dock to the Harmony Module or Node 2. Node 2 already has two Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA) which are used to connect spacecraft and modules with different docking mechanisms. They resemble tunnels that connect to spacecraft.

The tasks for the U.S. spacewalks #29, #30, #31.

The tasks for the U.S. spacewalks #29, #30, #31.

The goal will then be to link each International Docking Adapters to a Pressurized Mating Adapter … imagine doing it with Lego, more or less!

But like with Lego there is a possibility that one piece, in this case the Pressurized Mating Adapter could be better used elsewhere. That is the case with PMA-3. The first International Docking Adapter is relatively easy to install: it is connected to PMA-2, which is installed on the Harmony Module facing the direction the Space Station moves.

The second International Docking Adapter requires more work.  The international adapter will be connected to PMA-3 but it first has to be moved from Node 3 Harmony to Node 2 Unity to face towards space.

Why all this work? The new docking adapters will be used to welcome the new commercial cargos from Space-X and Boeing , starting most likely from the last part of 2017. In the long run the two new Adapters will allow the Space Station to host one more crew from the present six.

In the meantime new cargo arrived at the Space Station bringing food, supplies and new hardware for the experiments.

It has been a busy period  for the astronauts living on the ISS that in a very short period has seen the arrival of Dragon and the depart of both Dragon and the last ever European cargo spaceship ATV-5. Progress 58, the Russian cargo just arrived at the Station, will stay docked to the Station until next August.

The astronauts have a lot of work to do in any case: two more spacewalks are expected this week and a new crew will soon arrive to start Expedition 43.

Stefano Sandrelli

Cover image: Terry Virts as seen from the Cupola of the ISS and photographed by Samantha Cristoforetti on Feb.21, 2015. Credits: ESA/NASA

For more pics of the U.S. spacewalk #29: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition42/gallery.html#.VOtMxvmG-So

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Exercise in space with Samantha!

The most important effects of microgravity on the human body are losing bone density and deteriating muscle strength. Each astronaut on the International Space Station exercises 150 minutes every day in the “space gym” to minimise the effects of living in space. Astronauts can use several exercise machines to simulate training on Earth. One of these is the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device or ARED for friends. We asked ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti to show and explain how ARED works…ready?


Not rocket science


An ‘elegant’ interview

After my bad experience interviewing fruit-flies, today my boss came to me saying I should interview someone who has been referred to as “elegant”… “And transparent,” she added with a smile. She’s a good boss, my boss is. I know she trusts me and that she values my work. The fruit-fly experience is now in the past. So I dutifully phoned the number the boss gave me and transcribed. Good morning professor, thanks for agreeing to this interview with Outpost 42! My pleasure, for my colleagues and myself it is a duty and a pleasure to make a small contribution to science and its outreach. You are very kind, professor. I know you will take care of an experiment to improve the health of astronauts on long-duration missions. What is it? Together with other colleagues, I work on the EPIGENETICS experiment: we try to understand how living in weightlessness can induce inheritable genetic modifications without changes  in the DNA sequence. But DNA is genetic register is it not? If it does not change, it cannot transmit differences from past mutations. Am I wrong? Well, some changes that do not correspond to a changed DNA can be inherited. The DNA remains the same, but the way it is expressed changes. A simple comparison would be when different actors perform the same play. The script will remain the same, but its interpretation is different. The science that studies these kind of changes is called epigenetics. Aside from this example, where do you see such a mechanism in everyday life? A classic example is cell differentiation: some cells specialise, but do not change their basic DNA structure. Some recent studies suggest that epigenetic changes may also have an impact on aging and on tumors. Let’s go back to the astronauts and space. Why do you want to do this experiment in reduced gravity? We want to understand how a cell that has adapted to space can transmit its adaptation to the next generation of cells. Bones and muscles of astronauts undergo changes in long-duration missions: our experiment is aimed to better understand if there are changes at the level of each cell and what the link is between adaptation and mutation epigenetics. I’m curious to see how you conduct the experiment. In her blog Samantha Cristoforetti seems to be having a lot of fun with Epigenetics. It is because we are involved. Understandably so Professor, you and your colleagues are certainly charismatic people. What I meant to ask was with which organisms are you conducting the experiment? Please do not tell me that it is those arrogant fruit-flies! [laughs]. We do not need fruit flies, our involvement is enough. You and Samantha of course. I imagine that you follow our astronaut step by step from Earth as she deals with the organisms of study, are they bacteria? Look [he keeps laughing], there is a misunderstanding here. We are on the station together with Samantha. In what sense? In the only way possible. We are there with her: when we launched we were larvae. Then we awakened with a good bacterial nourishment: some of us were put in a centrifuge that simulates gravity while others were left free to float in zero-gravity. Once mature, we reproduced: the adults were taken away and put in the refrigerator (called MELFI) to be analysed on ground while the larvae continued eating and growing happily for five days. This process is repeated: adults are popped in the fridge and the second-generation larvae allowed to grow. And so on, for four generations… Why are you not saying anything? Have you lost interest? Professor … who you are you? I am a worm, of course. What? Worms? I’m talking on the phone with a worm? I am a Caenorhabditis elegans, in fact. I have the honour of being able to enjoy a certain elegance. Is it a problem? Think about it: we are just a millimetre long, and we are totally transparent, allowing researchers to observe our internal organs under a microscope easily. And we are almost all hermaphrodites. Hello? Hello? Anyone on the line? Mr. interviewer … we have to go, the MELFI awaits us: goodbye, then, we’ll tell Samantha you said “hi”!

Stefano Sandrelli

  To learn more about the Epigenetics experiment: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1075.html Cover image: Caenorhabditis elegans — a millimeter-long roundworm with a genetic makeup scientists understand — will be central to a pair of Japan Aerospace Agency investigations into muscle and bone loss of astronauts on the International Space Station in the first few months of 2015. Image Credit: NASA

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