Science operations aboard the International Space Station this week were geared toward the docking today of Space Shuttle Atlantis, with three new experiments scheduled for transfer to the Station and four completed experiments to be ferried back to Earth.
The exchange of scientific experiments represents research in the fields of medicine, biotechnology, agriculture, petroleum processing and pharmaceuticals. Scheduled for transfer to the Station this week are: the Plant Growth Bioprocessing Apparatus (PGBA), the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGBA), the Protein Crystal Growth Single-locker Thermal Enclosure System (PCG-STES), and fresh samples for the Zeolite Crystal Growth (ZCG) experiment.
PGBA will investigate the effects of microgravity on plant structures. CGBA will serve as a refrigerator to stabilize biological samples from PGBA for post-flight analyses. PCG-STES, which has flown on Expeditions Two and Four, will again provide a temperature-controlled environment for growing high-quality crystals of selected proteins that could yield insights in the fields of medicine and agriculture. ZCG will continue to process zeolite crystals, which are used on Earth in petroleum manufacturing and are being studied for future applications in energy storage, electronics and more.
Returning to Earth with Atlantis on this mission are soybean plants grown in the Advanced Astroculture experiment, PCG-STES protein crystals for analysis, experimental capsules for drug delivery from the Microencapsulation Electrostatic Processing experiment, liver cell tissue samples cultured in the StelSys experiment, and Zeolite Crystal Growth experiment samples processed during the mission.
Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson and the Pore Formation and Mobility Investigation (PFMI) science team completed the fifth experiment run on Sunday and a sixth experiment run on Monday in a research program to learn more about how bubbles can weaken materials such as those used in semiconductors and jet engine turbine blades.
Also on Monday, Whitson collected a gas sample from the growth chamber of the ADVASC experiment in preparation for deactivation and the return to Earth. With the Shuttle safely on its way, Whitson also on Monday began preparing the zeolite crystal samples for return.
Selected crewmembers on Monday filled out their weekly Crew Interactions survey on the Human Research Facility laptop computer. Interactions is a computer-based questionnaire intended to identify and characterize important interpersonal and cultural factors that may affect the performance of the crew and ground support personnel during Station missions.
On Tuesday, the crew conducted pre-spacewalk readings on the EVA Radiation Monitoring (EVARM) badges. The badges, which will be used in this week's scheduled spacewalks, are designed to be worn in pockets in the cooling undergarments of the U.S. spacesuits and measure radiation dosages received by specific parts of the body during operations outside the Station.
Crew Earth Observation photography targets for this week included Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Khartoum, Sudan, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Dakar, Senegal; the lower Amazon River Basin; Caracas, Venezuela; the Tuamotu Archipelago in the Pacific; and Monterrey, Mexico.
The crew continued its daily payload status checks of automated science payloads to make sure that all experiments and payload facilities continue to operate properly.
Research operations aboard the Station last week slowed after NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston shut down Wednesday in the face of a threat from Hurricane Lili and transferred control to its Backup Control Center in Moscow. During that period, high-rate data downlink from the Station was not available, and the Station's solar arrays were fixed. As a result, power to some Station payloads was reduced by the Payload Operations Center in Huntsville, Ala. The Operations Center returned to normal operations on Friday after Mission Control was reactivated.
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