Space Station Sunday: Dragon Delayed; CATS Not Prowling Yet

Good evening, space fans!  Here's what's recently been happening on our favorite orbital outpost.

A SpaceX Dragon launch that was supposed to ferry new equipment and supplies to the ISS has been delayed until after January 6th.  The Dragon, an unmanned spacecraft, will include cargo such as a flatworm experiment, external radiation monitors, and a wearable technology experiment that tracks astronauts' bio-statistics as they sleep.  It will later also ferry completed experiments back to earth.  In the meantime, the ISS crew have been making room for their new gear, readying the completed experiments for earthly analysis.

Perhaps the most notable experiment that will be arriving aboard on the SpaceX Dragon is the CATS, or Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, which uses light detection and ranging (LIDAR) to assess particulate matter in the atmosphere.  This will shed light not only on how our atmosphere and climate deals with varying levels of pollutants and natural elements, but will also aid in assessing the safest possible conditions for future space launches.

We know what you're thinking and no, it is not like this at all.
(Image courtesy valarie/

Another delivery spacecraft, Europe's unmanned Automated Transfer Vehicle, was packed with garbage from the ISS.  The ATV will be released from the space station in February, when it will incinerate both the garbage and itself in "fiery destruction" over the Pacific.

Though science and maintenance continued despite the lack of the Dragon, downtime was also provided for the astronauts to have some room for seasonal celebration.

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti doesn't need any reindeer to fly.
(Image courtesy

However, the holidays don't take precedence over the glory of science, and work continued on a variety of objectives.  One of the notable experiments the astronauts worked on this week included extensive analysis by scientists on the ground.  The Neuromapping study, according to NASA, will help "to assess changes in a crew member’s perception, motor control, memory and attention during a six-month space mission." Previous astronauts' reports have alluded to a possible loss of movement control and cognitive ability taking place in microgravity. Using fMRI and MRI machines, the study seeks to further discern how and why these changes may occur.

Another experiment, Skin-B, involved analyzing possible reasons why human skin ages more rapidly in space than on earth.  Yes (surprise!), the environment of space is not particularly pleasant to human beings across the board, even when one is ensconced in sweet space station surroundings.

No one is going to understand this hard-won homefront more completely than astronaut Scott Kelly, who plans to spend a full year on the ISS beginning in spring 2015.  Along with veteran Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, the two will spend a year on the ISS, assessing everything from prolonged ocular exposure in microgravity to psychological health issues from living in space.  

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, pictured in the ISS cupola on October 14, 2010, proved adept from all angles while serving as the Flight Engineer for Expedition 25.
(Image courtesy

Particularly of interest are any unforeseen problems that could pose threats to longer-duration missions, such as an expedition to Mars.  John Charles, chief of NASA's Human Research Program’s new International Science Office, noted, “This one-year mission opportunity will show if the trends continue as before or if we are approaching any ‘cliffs’ that will require new treatments while providing new insights.”

And finally, as earth celebrates another orbit around the sun, we can celebrate the continued success of the brave men and women orbiting our earth.  The video below is a composite of 12,500 images captured by German astronaut Alexander Gerst, who recently returned home to earth.  Cheers to our fearless's looking like 2015 will hold more flying fascination than ever!

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