BEAM Opens for Tests, Crew Checks Body Shape

Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet are pictured inside BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. Pesquet is also wearing the experimental SkinSuit. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — BEAM was opened for a short time Thursday so the crew could install sensors inside the expandable module. The Expedition 50 space residents also explored how the body changes shape and how to prevent back pain during long-term missions.

BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, had its hatches opened temporarily so astronaut Peggy Whitson could install temporary sensors and perform a modal test, which has the astronaut use their fist to impart loads on the module. The sensors are measuring the resulting vibrations and how the module holds up to impacts. BEAM is an expandable habitat technology demonstration, which is a lower-mass and lower-volume system than metal habitats and can increase the efficiency of cargo shipments, possibly reducing the number of launches needed and overall mission costs.

Whitson also joined Commander Shane Kimbrough for body measurements to help NASA understand how living in space changes an astronaut’s physical characteristics. The duo collected video and imagery and measured chest, waist, hip arms and legs to help researchers learn how physical changes impact suit sizing.

An experimental suit called the SkinSuit is being studied for its ability to offset the effects of microgravity and prevent lower back pain and the stretching of the spine. Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet wore the SkinSuit today and documented his comfort, range of motion and other aspects of the suit.

New Crew Arrives at Space Station

The six-member Expedition 50 crew is comprised of (front row, from left) Peggy Whitson, Oleg Novitskiy and Thomas Pesquet. In the back, from left, are Shane Kimbrough, Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko. (Credit: NASA TV)
The six-member Expedition 50 crew is comprised of (front row, from left) Peggy Whitson, Oleg Novitskiy and Thomas Pesquet. In the back, from left, are Shane Kimbrough, Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko. (Credit: NASA TV)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Three new crew members are aboard the International Space Station. The hatches on the space station and Soyuz MS-03 opened at 7:40 p.m. EST Saturday, marking the arrival to the orbiting laboratory for NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Oleg Novitskiy of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency).

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Korea’s Yi to be Hospitalized for a Week; Whitson Describes Landing

Korea’s first astronaut, Yi So-yeon, is expected to be hospitalized for a week to recover from back injuries she suffered from the rough re-entry and landing of her Soyuz spacecraft on April 19, Telecoms Korea reported.

The Korean government says that Yi suffered from mild dislocation and bruising of the vertebrae. She is being treated with physical and drug therapy as well as acupuncture at an Air Force hospital in Cheongju, 137 kilometers southeast of Seoul. She entered the hospital on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, American astronaut Peggy Whitson has described the rough re-entry and landing, during which the crew was subjected to more 8 Gs – 8 times the force of gravity. It was a lot to handle for Whitson and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, who had both spent 192 days in space.

Whitson told Florida Today that the re-entry started later than expected – which indicates that the Soyuz descent module didn’t separate properly from the rest of the spacecraft. Soyuz then entered a “ballistic trajectory” – a preprogrammed maneuver when the re-entry module doesn’t separate as planned.

“Landing was pretty much the car crash that everybody described to me…I had no sensation of the bounce part of it, but I definitely had the senation of a lot of rolling going on after that first hit,” Whitson said.

Reports: Soyuz Re-entered Atmosphere Hatch First

A Soyuz spacecraft that landed nearly 300 miles off course on Saturday apparently re-entered the atmosphere hatch first with a propulsion unit still attached, according to published reports.

CBS News reports that the Soyuz descent capsule – carrying Peggy Whitson, Yuri Malenchenko and Yi So-yeon home from the International Space Station – had difficulty separating from its propulsion module. The spacecraft re-entered the top of the atmosphere in an unusual orientation until the propulsion unit broke away, something it is designed to do in such a situation. The Soyuz then righted itself with its heat shield down.

The “ballistic” re-entry subjected the three astronauts to high G forces. CBS News quotes Whitson as saying that a meter in the spacecraft read 8.2 G’s.

The Russian Interfax news agency is quoting an unnamed Russian space official as saying the crew was in serious danger, according to the Associated Press. The hatch suffered major damage, as did a valve that equalizes pressure between the inside and outside of the ship. An antenna melted away, preventing communication between the capsule and Mission Control in Moscow.

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Soyuz Landing – Apparently Much Worse Than Thought

MSNBC’s James Oberg has an analysis of Saturday’s mishap involving a Soyuz spacecraft that experienced a high-G re-entry and landed 260 miles off course. Apparently, things were worse than originally reported – including a brush fire that burned the parachute and filled the capsule with smoke, and a confused Mission Control that lost track of the spacecraft.

The three-person crew – ISS Commander Peggy Whitson, Russian Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko, and South Korean bioengineer Yi So-yeon -was subjected to about nine times the force of gravity. Yi, the only rookie on the flight, said she was scared but reassured by the calm of her colleagues during the bone-jarring descent. “I looked at the others and I pretended to be OK,” she said during a press conference Monday.

Oberg speculates that Soyuz’s autopilot malfunctioned, forcing the spacecraft into an emergency, ballistic descent. This is the second straight time that an emergency landing occurred, and the third time in five years. Oberg said Russia is facing a challenge of ramping up production of the usually reliable spacecraft amid plans to double the International Space Station’s crew from three to six and to retire the space shuttle in 2010. Meanwhile, Russia is facing a wave of retirements among its space workers and the need to hire younger, less experienced engineers and technicians.

When in Doubt, Blame the Women

Russian space agency chief Anatoly Perminov put forth a rather bizarre theory about why a Soyuz spacecraft suffered a malfunction on Saturday, subjecting its crew to a punishing re-entry while landing 260 miles off target:

A dangerous technical glitch that’s occurred three times in five years? Naaah. There were too many women on board.

“You know in Russia, there are certain bad omens about this sort of thing, but thank God that everything worked out successfully,” the Associated Press quoted Perminov as saying. “Of course in the future, we will work somehow to ensure that the number of women will not surpass” the number of male astronauts.

The Soyuz was returning from the International Space Station with two female astronauts – ISS commander Peggy Whitson and South Korean bioengineer Yi So-yeon – as well as Russian flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko. A malfunction caused the Soyuz to undergo a steep “ballistic” reentry, subjecting the astronauts to up to 10 times the force of gravity.

Reporters were apparently startled by Perminov’s remarks, which referring to an old naval superstition that having women aboard a ship is bad luck. When challenged by a reporter, the Russian space chief denied any sexism.

“This isn’t discrimination,” he insisted. “I’m just saying that when a majority (of the crew) is female, sometimes certain kinds of unsanctioned behavior or something else occurs, that’s what I’m talking about.” Perminov, probably realizing he had said too much already, didn’t elaborate any further.

The last Soyuz to return from ISS suffered a similar malfunction in October, as did a flight back in 2003. Officials said they would investigate the cause of the latest problem.

Soyuz Crew Reported Safe Despite High G Re-entry, Off Target Landing

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying U.S. space station commander Peggy Whitson and South Korea’s first astronaut landed 260 miles off course in Kazakhstan on Saturday after a re-entry that subjected the crew to as much as 10 times the force of gravity.

The Associate Press quotes Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin as calling the crew’s condition “satisfactory.” Whitson, South Korean bioengineer Yi So-yeon, and Russian flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko were being examined on-site by medical personnel and will be later flown to Moscow for further evaluation.

The Soyuz suffered a malfunction that sent it into a steep “ballistic re-entry,” subjecting the crew to high G forces. The last Soyuz to return from the International Space Station suffered a similar malfunction, as did one in May 2003.