Soyuz Commander Valery Tokarev and Expedition 12 Commander Bill McArthur moved their Soyuz spacecraft from the Zarya module to the Zvezda living quarters module early Monday. They will use the same vehicle to return to Earth April 8. This week's move opened the Zarya docking port for the arrival of the Expedition 13 crew.
The Expedition 13 crew, Commander Pavel Vinogradov and Flight Engineer Jeff Williams, are in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, awaiting launch. They are scheduled to lift off at 9:30 p.m. EST Wednesday, March 29.
Managers reviewed preparations for the mission and approved moving forward with launch at the Soyuz Flight Readiness Review on Thursday. Although no spacewalk is planned from the station until July, managers also reviewed issues with spacewalking capability. They approved a temporary solution to allow a spacewalk if needed.
The concern with U.S. spacewalks surfaced when engineers found blisters on handrail bars during production work on the ground. The finding led to an ongoing evaluation to ensure the handrails' strength is sufficient. The evaluation is expected to be completed by the end of April. Meanwhile, the approved procedure for spacewalks, if one were to be needed, involves attaching crew safety tethers at the base of the handrails rather than on the bar of the rails.
Tokarev and McArthur also are continuing to look for Russian lithium hydroxide canisters on the station. The canisters are used to scrub carbon dioxide from Russian Orlan spacesuits and would be used if a spacewalk required using those suits. Regardless of the outcome of their search, a new supply of canisters will be carried to the station on a Progress cargo vehicle in April, and the next spacewalk planned using Russian spacesuits is set for August.
Vinogradov and Williams are planned to dock to the station at 11:19 p.m. EST next Friday. They will be joined by Brazil's first astronaut, Marcos Pontes, for launch. Pontes will spend eight days on the station under a commercial agreement with the Russian Federal Space Agency and return home with McArthur and Tokarev.
After a day of light duty and rest Tuesday, McArthur and Tokarev resumed normal operations, focusing on packing and preparing for the trip home. They packed personal items as well as hardware and science supplies that will return with them.
They also continued several science experiments that study plants in weightlessness and crystal growth in space. The studies included work with the Russian Matroshka and PLANT experiments and two Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency experiments, the Granada Crystallization Facility and the Photon Crystals Growth Facility. McArthur disassembled and stowed components from the U.S. Foot/Ground Reaction Forces During Spaceflight experiment. The crew recently completed that study which investigated the effects of weightlessness on the legs and feet.
McArthur took time to talk with students during two amateur radio sessions, one with the Sir James Lougheed Elementary School in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and a second with more than a thousand students in Rutigliano, Italy. McArthur has conducted 34 such sessions with students during his six months in orbit, more than any other station crew member.