Next trio launching on space station's 30th expedition
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: December 20, 2011
Engineers are readying a Soyuz spacecraft for launch Wednesday to ferry three fresh crew members to the International Space Station, boosting the lab's staff back to six after delays caused by the August failure of an unmanned Progress supply ship.
Standing by to welcome them aboard will be Expedition 30 commander Dan Burbank, Soyuz TMA-22 commander Anton Shkaplerov and flight engineer Anatoly Ivanishin, who were launched to the outpost Nov. 13.
Pettit, who holds a doctorate in chemical engineering, said in an interview that he is looking forward to carrying out research aboard the space station, "working on what the purpose of space station is, which is using it to do something meaningful in terms of facilitating human exploration."
Looking at the bigger picture, "I'm a firm believer that one planet is not enough," he said. "I like to say that perhaps the ultimate reason for exploring space can be learned from the dinosaurs. If the dinosaurs had explored space, if they'd colonized other planets, they would still be alive today. So I think this is ultimately why human beings, if we want to live on the time scale of 10s to 20s of millions of years, we're going to have to have our DNA on more than one planet."
For his part, Kuipers, a medical doctor, said he looks forward to a variety of life science experiments, studying the effects of microgravity on human physiology and using the absence of gravity to gain new insights.
"Life science experiments are always very interesting for me personally, but also because they cover a lot of territory," he said in a NASA interview. "I'm going to follow a diet with salt, for example, the SOLO (Sodium Loading in Microgravity) experiment, to see what the effect is on bone loss.
"But we also do psychological experiments to check your reaction time. We look at ... our organs with ultrasound, for example. We take ultrasound pictures, movies of the heart, of blood vessels, even of the eyeball, so that's a nice skill to learn, especially for me. I like these experiments.
"We have strength measurements, we have experiments to see how your endurance changes in flight," he said. "So in a lot of different fields we have these kind of experiments. ... It's a lot of different aspects of life sciences that we cover. So that's interesting."
Burbank and his crew originally were scheduled for launch in September, with Pettit's crew following in mid November. But the crew rotation schedule was disrupted after a Progress cargo ship was destroyed during launch Aug. 24 when its third stage engine, virtually identical to the one used in the manned version of the Soyuz booster, malfunctioned and shut down before the craft reached orbit.
Russian engineers traced the problem to contamination in a propellant line. Downstream engines were inspected and another Progress was successfully launched Oct. 30, followed by the Soyuz TMA-22 carrying Burbank, Shkaplerov and Ivanishin.
Soyuz rocket failures are rare and Pettit said in an interview he was satisfied with the Russian failure investigation and corrective actions.
"The Russians are good engineers, and they know how to make their hardware, they know how to fix their hardware when it doesn't work right," he said. "But all of this falls in the category of riding rockets is a risky business. If you want to be able to venture into space at this point in time, you've got to ride a rocket and if you want to participate in exploring that particular frontier you just have to roll your dice with the universe and do the best you can."
Asked how his wife and two children viewed risk and safety, Pettit said they know "what I do for a living and these things just kind of come with that and as far as I can tell, everybody's standing squarely behind what I do for a living. That really gives me a large measure of strength so I can go off and explore the frontier."
Kononenko spent 199 days in space as a member of the Expedition 17 crew in 2008. Kuipers spent 11 days aboard the space station in 2002 during a Soyuz rotation flight and Pettit spent five-and-a-half months aboard the outpost in 2002 and 2003 as part of the Expedition 6 crew. He was onboard the lab when the shuttle Columbia was lost during re-entry and he flew a subsequent mission aboard the shuttle Endeavour in 2008.
During his first stay aboard the space station, Pettit frequently downlinked video of intriguing science experiments using everyday items. The "Saturday morning science" sessions, conducted in his spare time, were widely viewed on the internet and Pettit said he hoped to continue the tradition during his upcoming stay.
"Are we going to have a revival of 'Science Saturday?' Yes, we are, but it'll have to be one during off-duty time," he said. "As you know, crews on space station are kept pretty busy doing just the programmatic work and the maintenance on space station. We do have some off-duty time and I plan to use (it) for working on simple scientific demonstrations and I'll downlink them when I can."
One of the highlights of the Expedition 30 crew's stay aboard the station will be the planned berthing of a commercial cargo capsule built by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, of Hawthorne, Calif. Launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida is targeted for Feb. 7.
SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to provide 12 cargo flights to the station for delivery of more than 44,000 pounds of equipment and supplies. The contract may be expanded to cover additional flights, boosting its value to some $3.1 billion. NASA also has ordered eight space station resupply flights from Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., under a contract valued at $1.9 billion. Initial test flights are expected next year.
Three test flights were planned by SpaceX under a separate contract valued at up to $396 million. The first flight was successfully carried out last December when a Dragon capsule was lofted into orbit and guided to a successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, the first commercial spacecraft ever recovered from orbit.
The original plan called for a second test flight to test rendezvous procedures, with berthing carried out during a third and final test flight. But earlier this month, NASA agreed to let SpaceX combine the second and third test flights into a single mission.
Unlike cargo ships supplied by Russia and the European Space Agency, the commercial craft built by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences will be pulled into port by the station's robot arm.
"Both of these vehicles come close to space station and then we sort of have to lasso 'em with the robotic arm and reel them into the station," Pettit said. "We've been practicing the dynamics of how you do that, and we've been practicing that a lot. Once you get these vehicles berthed to station, then it's pretty much a standard ops for any visiting vehicle where you open up the hatches and there's a whole bunch of goodies inside that you offload."
After that, "we fill it full of a bunch of, I guess I'd call them, anti-goodies, or garbage and things we want to dispose of. Then we reverse the process, we unberth the vehicle using the robotic arm an hold it out as far as we can with the arm and then let go of the vehicle."
Kuipers said the advent of commercial cargo ships is the start "of a new era where we have industry, commercial companies getting into the game and into space business."
"And I think this is also the whole idea of ESA, of NASA," he said. "New things should be developed by these kind of agencies because we have to invest, it's risky, you have to find out what is possible, what's not possible. You develop a rocket, you test it and then commercial companies take over, and I think the same thing is now happening with the space station."