The International Space Station's Expedition Four crew began a new year in space this week conducting a variety of experiments, testing new techniques with the station's robotic arm and beginning to prepare for a spacewalk planned later this month.
Commander Yury Onufrienko and Flight Engineers Carl Walz and Dan Bursch observed a quiet New Year's holiday in orbit, spending time relaxing and communicating with family and friends. Later in the week, work resumed as the crew operated two experiments that study astronauts' reactions to weightlessness. Walz and Bursch both participated in the H-Reflex experiment, a study that gauges the effects of weightlessness on spinal cord excitability and reflexes, and the Pulmonary Function experiment, a study of the effects of space flight and space walks on lung function.
Bursch and Walz had an opportunity to train in the operation of the station's robotic arm, the Canadarm2, while maneuvering the arm on Thursday to latch on to fixtures on the exterior of the station. In addition to providing training for the crew, the arm operations tested a new technique being developed to alleviate tension that has been seen as the arm releases its latch on a fixture. The tests provided valuable data for engineers on the ground developing those techniques, and similar tests may be repeated later in the mission.
The crew members have virtually completed unpacking and stowing the more than three tons of supplies and equipment brought to the station with them aboard the space shuttle in early December. Their attention next week will turn to an upcoming milestone for their flight -- the first of two planned this month and as many as four spacewalks that are planned during their five-month stay aboard the station. Walz and Onufrienko are planned to conduct a spacewalk for up to six hours tentatively beginning at about 2:50 p.m. CST Jan. 14. This weekend, the crew will begin shifting their sleep period later to adjust for the timing of the upcoming spacewalk, and, next week, checkouts will begin of the spacesuits and spacewalking gear that will be used for the work outside.
The spacewalk will use Russian Orlan space suits and originate from the Russian Pirs docking compartment airlock. Onufrienko and Walz will reposition an exterior Russian strela cargo crane from the station's pressurized mating adapter 1 to the station's Zarya module, moving it within reach of a similar crane on the Pirs compartment. The move will allow the cranes to be used in tandem to maneuver equipment on the station's exterior during future space walks.
With systems operating normally, the station is orbiting at an average altitude of 247 statute miles (397 km).
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