Dragon Heads Home, Crew Ship Nears Launch as Research Continues

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle is pictured approaching the station on Aug. 30 for an autonomous docking to the Harmony module’s forward international docking adapter.

A U.S. resupply ship departed the International Space Station on Thursday morning and will return to Earth in the evening. A Russian rocket is scheduled to roll out on Friday to prepare for next week’s launch with the crew members to the orbiting lab.

NASA Flight Engineer Shane Kimbrough was on duty monitoring the SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle during its automated undocking from the Harmony module’s forward international docking adapter today at 9:12 a.m. EDT. It will orbit Earth for several more hours before parachuting to a splashdown off the coast of Florida later tonight. NASA and SpaceX personnel will be on support boats ready to retrieve the cargo craft containing station hardware and completed science experiments for analysis.

The next mission to the orbiting lab will blast off on Tuesday at 4:55 a.m. EDT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz MS-19 crew ship will carry veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov leading spaceflight participants Klim Shipenko and Yulia Peresild. The Russian trio will dock to the station’s Rassvet module less than three-and-a-half hours after launch.

Meanwhile, microgravity science activities are ongoing aboard the space station today. Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) swapped samples inside the Fluids Science Laboratory to study the dynamics of granular materials in weightlessness. Commander Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration installed a deployer loaded with small satellites inside the Kibo laboratory module’s airlock.

NASA Flight Engineers Megan McArthur and Mark Vande Hei spent their day on botany and biology studies. McArthur cleaned up debris and took photographs of Hatch chile plants growing inside the Plant Habitat. Vande Hei started his morning processing blood samples in a centrifuge then spent the afternoon stowing biological samples in a science freezer for the Food Physiology experiment.

Cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy monitored his blood pressure while wearing the lower body negative pressure suit that counteracts the effect of microgravity pulling fluids toward the human head. Roscosmos Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov photographed microbe samples swabbed from station surfaces to understand the risk to spacecraft and future human missions.