Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft officially begins its just over one month stay aboard the International Space Station. At 7:28 am ET, Expedition 49 crewmembers Takuya Onishi (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and Kate Rubins (NASA) captured Cygnus with the space station’s robotic arm.

Cygnus and robotic arm

At 10:53 am ET, the spacecraft was attached to the Station’s Unity module.

Cygnus and ISS

Orbital ATK is breathing a sigh of relief. It’s been about two years since their last launch at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia ended in fire shortly after takeoff.

Last week’s launch was picture perfect.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden cheered the successful launch. “It’s great to see launches to the International Space Station happening again from the Virginia coast,” said Bolden.

Aboard the Cygnus resupply spacecraft is more than 5,000 pounds of food, gear and science experiments. Some are new; others are supporting existing science experiments. Crewmembers of Expeditions 49 and 50 will assist in nearly 250 science and research studies. From new lighting systems to fire experiments.

Mark Watney told us why NASA hates fire in The Martian, but that doesn’t mean the space agency doesn’t need to experiment with it. They’re just not in the business of blowing stuff up. Especially in space.

One of these fire experiments is called Cool Flames. And it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Some types of fuels burn very hot at first and then appear to go out. But they’re still burning with flames we can’t see called cool flames. This experiment will continue to examine this phenomenon and could one day lead to more efficient engines and fuels for use in space and back here on Earth.

Another fire experiment is attached to the ISS today, but won’t be conducted there. The Saffire experiment will be conducted aboard the Cygnus spacecraft after it detaches from the ISS and before it burns up in Earth’s atmosphere.

“Saffire seeks to answer two questions,” David Urban, principal investigator for the experiment explains. “Will an upward spreading flame continue to grow or will microgravity limit the size? Secondly, what fabrics and materials will catch fire and how will they burn?”

Other experiments include Lighting Effects which tests a new lighting system aboard the station. It’s designed to keep crewmembers’ body clocks in proper sync for a better working and resting schedule.

Research shows certain types of light can help alertness or promote better sleep. It’s why your iPhone has ‘Night Shift’ mode. Staring at the portable flashlight you call your iPhone screen doesn’t promote better sleep. But Night Shift helps curb the amount of blue light coming from your screen.

“Lighting Effects studies new light sources that can be adjusted for intensity and wavelength across the day, simulating a more regular schedule. Results are expected to provide new information for flight surgeons, psychologists, and crew members to better regulate circadian rhythms and improve sleep. Engineers and designers may also benefit from this information as they build the next generation of crewed space exploration vehicles,” according to the experiment’s page.

With Cygnus successfully docked to the ISS, the six crewmembers will begin unloading these experiments and the other 5,000 pounds worth of gear.



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