The MSG, which provides a sealed environment for delicate microgravity experiments that involve fluids or flames, completed a long-duration test run this week and has been cleared for normal operation beginning Monday. First up: the experiment known as InSpace (Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates from Colloidal Emulsions), studying how particles and clumps of particles respond to an external magnetic field. This experiment is a step to the future production of improved fluids used in braking and vibration damping systems, and for new applications like seismic dampers to make high-rise buildings more resistant to earthquakes. The MSG was built in collaboration by the European Space Agency and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., the site of the ISS Payload Operations Center.
On-board preparations continued this week for this crew's second spacewalk with a checkout of tools to be used by Bowersox and Pettit on a 61/2-hour spacewalk on the morning of April 8. Completing the tasks planned on this EVA-including reconfiguring power connections, providing a second power source for one of the station's control moment gyroscopes, securing thermal covers on quick disconnect fittings for the station's thermal control system, and releasing a light stanchion on one of the Crew and Equipment Translation Aid (CETA) carts-will reduce the likelihood of calling upon the two-man Expedition 7 crew to make a spacewalk. The early April excursion will be the 51st spacewalk in support of station assembly, the 26th to originate from the station itself.
Crewmembers are devoting more time to planning for their return to Earth in the Soyuz-TMA spacecraft now docked to the Russian Docking Compartment. They reviewed procedures this week and will consult on deorbit procedures with ground specialists next week. The crewmembers downlinked video of the interior of the Soyuz craft while describing their preparations for a landing in Kazakhstan in early May, made necessary by the grounding of the space shuttle fleet after the loss of Columbia on Feb. 1. On Wednesday Pettit used the station's amateur radio to talk to students about the ISS science mission. He answered questions from students at the Higashi Kaneko Junior High School in Japan's Iruma District, and from students at the primary school of Selnica-ob-Dravi (Selnica on the Drava) in the Republic of Slovenia. On Thursday Pettit was joined by Bowersox and Budarin in responding to questions from middle school students at the Region 12 Education Service Center in Waco, Texas.