Part of the appeal of Thanksgiving is how easily we settle into the familiar: cherished foods, friends and family, and favorite activities like football, puzzles or board games. As anyone who has spent Thanksgiving with someone else’s traditions knows, those familiar things can take on seemingly unusual forms. That’s especially true when you’re 200 miles up in space.
Holidays in space weren’t very common early in the program, but as astronauts start the 20th year of continuous habitation they will also be celebrating the 20th consecutive Thanksgiving in orbit. As it turns out, everything’s the same, but different.
Early in the space program, astronauts didn’t have much choice about their meals. A turkey dinner with all the trimmings was as much a pipe dream in the early 1960s as space travel had been a few decades earlier. Food had to be able to stay fresh, or at least edible, from the time it was packed until the end of the mission, which might be several weeks. It couldn’t be bulky or heavy, but it had to contain all the nutrition an astronaut would need. It had to be easily contained, so crumbs or droplets wouldn’t escape the container and get into the spacecraft instrumentation. For the first flights, that meant a lot of food in tubes or in small bite-sized pieces.
After the spacewalk, the crew could at least “sit down” for a meal together that included food they didn’t have to eat directly from a bag, tube or pouch. In the spacecraft’s “ward room”, a station held three trays of food selected for the astronauts. The trays themselves kept the food warm.
A food tray similar to the ones astronauts used aboard Skylab, showing food, utensils and clean wipes. The tray itself warmed the food.
The ward room aboard Skylab showing the warming trays in use. The Skylab 4 crew ate Thanksgiving dinner there in 1974.
It can’t be all mashed potatoes and pie. There have to be some greens. NASA has that covered with VEGGIE, the ongoing experiment to raise food crops aboard the space station. Though the current crop won’t necessarily be on the Thanksgiving menu, astronauts have already harvested and eaten “space lettuce”. Researchers hope to be growing peppers aboard the space station in 2020.
Astronaut Kjell Lindgren enjoys lettuce grown and harvested aboard the International Space Station.
Space station crews have been able to watch football on Thanksgiving thanks to live feeds from Mission Control. Unfortunately their choices of activities can be limited by their location. That long walk around the neighborhood to shake off the turkey coma? Not happening.
If you need to fix something on Earth, you could go to a store, buy the tools you need, and get started. In space, it’s not that easy.
Aside from the obvious challenges associated with space (like it being cold and there being no gravity), developing the right tools requires a great deal of creativity because every task is different, especially when the tools need to be designed from scratch. From the time an engineer dreams up the right tools to the time they are used in space, it can be quite a process.
The debris shield that covered Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer floats away toward Earth as astronaut Drew Morgan successfully releases it.
Once repaired, AMS will continue to help us understand more about the formation of the universe and search for evidence of dark matter and antimatter.
These spacewalks, or extravehicular activities (EVAs), are the most complex of their kind since the servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. AMS is particularly challenging to repair not only because of the instrument’s complexity and sensitivity, but also because it was never designed to be fixed. Because of this design, it does not have the kinds of interfaces that make spacewalks easier, or the ability to be operated on with traditional multi-purpose tools. These operations are so complex, their design and planning has taken four years. Let’s take a look at how we got ready to repair AMS.
Thinking Outside of the (Tool) Box
When designing the tools, our engineers need to keep in mind various complications that would not come into play when fixing something on Earth. For example, if you put a screw down while you’re on Earth, gravity will keep it there — in space, you have to consistently make sure each part is secure or it will float away. You also have to add a pressurized space suit with limited dexterity to the equation, which further complicates the tool design.
In addition to regular space complications, the AMS instrument itself presents many challenges — with over 300,000 data channels, it was considered too complex to service and therefore was not designed to one day be repaired or updated if needed. Additionally, astronauts have never before cut and reconnected micro-fluid lines (4 millimeters wide, less than the width of the average pencil) during a spacewalk, which is necessary to repair AMS, so our engineers had to develop the tools for this big first.
With all of this necessary out-of-the-box thinking, who better to go to for help than the teams that worked on the most well-known repair missions — the Hubble servicing missions and the space station tool teams? Building on the legacy of these missions, some of our same engineers that developed tools for the Hubble servicing missions and space station maintenance got to work designing the necessary tools for the AMS repair, some reworked from Hubble, and some from scratch. In total, the teams from Goddard Space Flight Center’s Satellite Servicing Projects Division, Johnson Space Center, and AMS Project Office developed 21 tools for the mission.
Designing and Building
Like many great inventions, it all starts with a sketch. Engineers figure out what steps need to be taken to accomplish the task, and imagine the necessary tools to get the job done.
From there, engineers develop a computer-aided design (CAD) model, and get to building a prototype. Tools will then undergo multiple iterations and testing with the AMS repair team and astronauts to get the design just right, until eventually, they are finalized, ready to undergo vibration and thermal vacuum testing to make sure they can withstand the harsh conditions of launch and use in the space environment.
Hex Head Capture Tool Progression:
Hex Head Capture Tool Used in Space:
Practice Makes Perfect
One of the reasons the AMS spacewalks have been four years in the making is because the complexity of the repairs required the astronauts to take extra time to practice. Over many months, astronauts tasked with performing the spacewalks practiced the AMS repair procedures in numerous ways to make sure they were ready for action. They practiced in:
Astronauts use this testing to develop and practice procedures in space-like conditions, but also to figure out what works and doesn’t work, and what changes need to be made. A great example is a part of the repair that involves cutting and reconnecting fluid lines. When astronauts practiced cutting the fluid lines during testing here on Earth, they found it was difficult to identify which was the right one to cut based on sight alone.
The tubes on the AMS essentially look the same.
After discussing the concern with the team monitoring the EVAs, the engineers once again got to work to fix the problem.
And thus, the Tube Cutting Guide tool was born! Necessity is the mother of invention and the team could not have anticipated the astronauts would need such a tool until they actually began practicing. The Tube Cutting Guide provides alignment guides, fiducials and visual access to enable astronauts to differentiate between the tubes. After each of eight tubes is cut, a newly designed protective numbered cap is installed to cover the sharp tubing.
Off to Space
With the tools and repair procedures tested and ready to go, they launched to the International Space Station earlier this year. Now they’re in the middle of the main event – Luca and Drew completed the first spacewalk last Friday, taking things apart to access the interior of the AMS instrument. Currently, there are three other spacewalks scheduled over the course of a month. The next spacewalk will happen on Nov. 22 and will put the Tube Cutting Guide to use when astronauts reconnect the tubes to a new cooling system.
With the ingenuity of our tool designers and engineers, and our astronauts’ vigorous practice, AMS will be in good hands.
Vertical Support Beam (VSB) Worksite: 5:15:27 – VSB Cover Handling Aid 5:18:05 – #10 Allen Bit 5:24:34 – Socket Head Capture Tool 5:41:54 – VSB Cover breaking 5:45:22 – VSB Cover jettison 5:58:20 – Top Spacer Tool & M4 Allen Bit 6:08:25 – Top Spacer removal 7:42:05 – Astronaut shoutout to the tools team
It’s National Space Day! To mark the occasion, we’re reflecting on the International Space Station, which has been continuously occupied since Nov. 2, 2000. As our orbiting laboratory that enables us to conduct important science off our home planet, the ISS allows researchers from all over the world to put their talents to work on innovative experiments in the microgravity environment. An international partnership of space agencies provides and operates the elements of the ISS. The principals are the space agencies of the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. Although each space station partner has distinct agency goals for station research, each partner shares a unified goal to extend the resulting knowledge for the betterment of humanity! Here are 5 fun facts about our about our out-of-this world floating laboratory:
1. Why did the availability of spacesuit sizes affect the schedule?
Spacesuits are not “one size fits all.” We do our best to anticipate the spacesuit sizes each astronaut will need, based on the spacesuit size they wore in training on the ground, and in some cases astronauts train in multiple sizes.
McClain realized that the medium she wore during the March 22 spacewalk was a better fit for her in space. She had planned to wear a large during the March 29 spacewalk.
In a tweet, McClain explained: “This decision was based on my recommendation. Leaders must make tough calls, and I am fortunate to work with a team who trusts my judgement. We must never accept a risk that can instead be mitigated. Safety of the crew and execution of the mission come first.”
To provide each astronaut the best fitting spacesuit during their spacewalks, Koch will wear the medium torso on March 29, and McClain will wear it again on April 8.
3. How come you don’t have enough spacesuits in the right size?
We do have enough torsos. The spacesuit takes into account more than 80 different body measurements to be configured for each astronaut. The suit has three sizes of upper torso, eight sizes of adjustable elbows, over 65 sizes of gloves, two sizes of adjustable waists, five sizes of adjustable knees and a vast array of padding options for almost every part of the body.
In space, we have two medium hard upper torsos, two larges and two extra larges; however, one of the mediums and one of the extra larges are spares that would require 12 hours of crew time for configuration.
12 hours might not seem like a long time, but the space station is on a very busy operational schedule. An astronaut’s life in space is scheduled for activities in five minute increments. Their time is scheduled to conduct science experiments, maintain their spaceship and stay healthy (they exercise two hours a day to keep their bones and muscles strong!).
The teams don’t want to delay this spacewalk because two resupply spacecraft – Northrop Grumman Cygnus and SpaceX cargo Dragon – are scheduled to launch to the space station in the second half of April. That will keep the crew very busy for a while!
Configuring the spare medium also poses a risk: The intricate life support and controls system (in addition to the pressure garment components) must be moved, and then, after being reconfigured, must complete additional functional checks to ensure it all was reassembled correctly with no chance of leaks.
Nothing is more important than the safety of our crew!
4. Why has there not already been an all-female spacewalk?
NASA does not make assignments based on gender.
The first female space shuttle commander, the first female space station commander and the first female spacewalker were all chosen because they the right individuals for the job, not because they were women. It is not unusual to change spacewalk assignments as lessons are learned during operations in space.
McClain became the 13th female spacewalker on March 22, and Koch will be the 14th this Friday – both coincidentally during Women’s History Month! Women also are filling two key roles in Mission Control: Mary Lawrence as the lead flight director and Jaclyn Kagey as the lead spacewalk officer.
5. When will the all-female spacewalk happen?
An all-female spacewalk is inevitable! As the percentage of women who have become astronauts increases, we look forward to celebrating the first spacewalk performed by two women! McClain, Koch (and Hague!) are all part of the first astronaut class that was 50 percent women, and five of the 11 members of the 2017 astronaut candidate class are also women.
For Women’s History Month, NASA and the International Space Station celebrate the women who conduct science aboard the orbiting lab. As of March 2019, 63 women have flown in space, including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists, and space station participants. The first woman in space was Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova who flew on Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963. The first American woman in space, Sally Ride, flew aboard the Space Shuttle STS-7 in June of 1983.
If conducted as planned, the upcoming March 29 spacewalk with Anne McClain and Christina Koch would be the first all-female spacewalk. Women have participated in science on the space station since 2001; here are the most recent and some highlights from their scientific work:
Christina Koch, Expedition 59
Christina Koch(pictured on the right) becomes the most recent woman in space, launching to the space station in mid-March to take part in some 250 research investigations and technology demonstrations. Koch served as station chief of the American Samoa Observatory and has contributed to the development of instruments used to study radiation particles for the Juno mission and the Van Allen Probe.
Anne McClain, Expedition 57/58, 59
Flight Engineer Anne McClain collects samples for Marrow, a long-term investigation into the negative effects of microgravity on the bone marrow and blood cells it produces. The investigation may lead to development of strategies to help prevent these effects in future space explorers, as well as people on Earth who experience prolonged bed rest. McClain holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel as an Army Aviator, with more than 2,000 flight hours in 20 different aircraft.
Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor, Expedition 56/57
Serena Auñón-Chancellor conducts research operations for the AngieX Cancer Therapy inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG). This research may facilitate a cost-effective drug testing method and help develop safer and more effective vascular-targeted treatments. As a NASA Flight Surgeon, Auñón-Chancellor spent more than nine months in Russia supporting medical operations for International Space Station crew members.
Peggy Whitson, Expeditions 5, 16, 50, 51/52
Astronaut Peggy Whitson holds numerous spaceflight records, including the U.S. record for cumulative time in space – 665 days – and the longest time for a woman in space during a single mission, 289 days. She has tied the record for the most spacewalks for any U.S. astronaut and holds the record for the most spacewalk time for female space travelers. She also served as the first science officer aboard the space station and the first woman to be station commander on two different missions. During her time on Earth, she also is the only woman to serve as chief of the astronaut office. Here she works on the Genes in Space-3 experiment, which completed the first-ever sample-to-sequence process entirely aboard the International Space Station. This innovation makes it possible to identify microbes in real time without having to send samples back to Earth, a revolutionary step for microbiology and space exploration.
Kate Rubins, Expedition 48/49
The Heart Cells investigation studies the human heart, specifically how heart muscle tissue contracts, grows and changes its gene expression in microgravity and how those changes vary between subjects. In this image, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins conducts experiment operations in the U.S. National Laboratory. Rubins also successfully sequenced DNA in microgravity for the first time as part of the Biomolecule Sequencer experiment.
Samantha Cristoforetti, Expedition 42/43
The first Italian woman in space, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti conducts the SPHERES-Vertigo investigation in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM). The investigation uses free-flying satellites to demonstrate and test technologies for visual inspection and navigation in a complex environment.
Elena Serova, Expedition 41/42
Cosmonaut Elena Serova, the first Russian woman to visit the space station, works with the bioscience experiment ASEPTIC in the Russian Glavboks (Glovebox). The investigation assessed the reliability and efficiency of methods and equipment for assuring aseptic or sterile conditions for biological investigations performed on the space station.
Karen Nyberg, Expedition 36/37
NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg sets up the Multi-Purpose Small Payload Rack (MSPR) fluorescence microscope in the space station’s Kibo laboratory. The MSPR has two workspaces and a table used for a wide variety of microgravity science investigations and educational activities.
Sunita Williams, Expeditions 32/33, 14/15
This spacewalk by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Aki Hoshide, reflected in Williams’ helmet visor, lasted six hours and 28 minutes. They completed installation of a main bus switching unit (MBSU) and installed a camera on the International Space Station’s robotic Canadarm2. Williams participated in seven spacewalks and was the second woman ever to be commander of the space station. She also is the only person ever to have run a marathon while in space. She flew in both the space shuttle and Soyuz, and her next assignment is to fly a new spacecraft: the Boeing CST-100 Starliner during its first operational mission for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Cady Coleman, Expeditions 26/27
Working on the Capillary Flow Experiment (CFE), NASA astronaut Catherine (Cady) Coleman performs a Corner Flow 2 (ICF-2) test. CFE observes the flow of fluid in microgravity, in particular capillary or wicking behavior. As a participant in physiological and equipment studies for the Armstrong Aeromedical Laboratory, she set several endurance and tolerance records. Coleman logged more than 4,330 total hours in space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and the space station.
Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Expedition 24
A system to purify water for use in intravenous administration of saline would make it possible to better treat ill or injured crew members on future long-duration space missions. The IVGEN investigation demonstrates hardware to provide that capability. Tracy Caldwell Dyson sets up the experiment hardware in the station’s Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG). As noted above, she and Shannon Walker were part of the first space station crew with more than one woman.
Shannon Walker, Expedition 24/25
Astronaut Shannon Walker flew on Expedition 24/25, a long-duration mission that lasted 163 days. Here she works at the Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF), an incubator with an artificial gravity generator used in various life science experiments, such as cultivating cells and plants on the space station. She began working in the space station program in the area of robotics integration, worked on avionics integration and on-orbit integrated problem-solving for the space station in Russia, and served as deputy and then acting manager of the On-Orbit Engineering Office at NASA prior to selection as an astronaut candidate.
Stephanie Wilson, STS-120, STS-121, STS-131
Astronaut Stephanie Wilson unpacks a Microgravity Experiment Research Locker Incubator II (MERLIN) in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM). Part of the Cold Stowage Fleet of hardware, MERLIN provides a thermally controlled environment for scientific experiments and cold stowage for transporting samples to and from the space station. Currently serving as branch chief for crew mission support in the Astronaut Office, Wilson logged more than 42 days in space on three missions on the space shuttle, part of the Space Transportation System (STS).
Other notable firsts:
• Roscosmos cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya, the first woman to participate in an extra-vehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalk, on July 25, 1984
• NASA astronaut Susan Helms, the first female crew member aboard the space station, a member of Expedition 2 from March to August 2001
• NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, the first female ISS Commander, April 2008, during a six-month tour of duty on Expedition 16
We just finished a 20-hour work day. I spent nearly 11 hours in the spacesuit, and 7 hours and 24 minutes doing a spacewalk. The view was amazing. The changes from day to night, and back to day were phenomenal.
My fellow astronaut Mark Vande Hei and I completed the primary task of replacing the Latching End Effector, or hand, for the robotic arm, but a software glitch kept us waiting and we were unable to complete any get-ahead tasks. I thought we had plenty of time and estimated that we had only been outside for a few hours. I was very surprised to find that we had worked for over 7 hours. Wow, I guess time really does fly by when you are having fun!