Cygnus Cargo Ship Attached to International Space Station

April 19, 2019: International Space Station Configuration. Five spaceships are docked at the space station including Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter and Russia’s Progress 71 and 72 resupply ships and the Soyuz MS-11 and MS-12 crew ships. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — After its capture this morning at 5:28 a.m. EDT, the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft was bolted into place on the International Space Station’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 7:31 a.m. At the time of installation, Cygnus was flying 255 miles above the Indian Ocean just south of Singapore.

Cygnus will remain at the space station until July 23, when the spacecraft will depart the station, deploy NanoRacks customer CubeSats, then have an extended mission of nine months before it will dispose of several tons of trash during a fiery reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

The spacecraft’s arrival brings close to 7,600 pounds of research and supplies to space station. Highlights of NASA-sponsored research to advance exploration goals and enable future missions to the Moon and Mars include:

Models for growing increasingly complex materials

Advanced Colloids Experiment-Temperature-10 (ACE-T-10) will test gels in a microgravity environment. This research could aid in the development of increasingly complex materials that may serve as the building blocks for a range of applications on Earth including foods, drugs, and electronic devices. The process also may provide an efficient method to build new materials and equipment in space.

Better life science research in a few drops

Although the space station is well equipped for health and life sciences research, the equipment available for cellular and molecular biology still is limited compared to capabilities found in laboratories on Earth. To address this limitation, CSA designed Bio-Analyzer, a new tool the size of a video game console that astronauts on station easily can use to test body fluids such as blood, saliva, and urine, with just a few drops. It returns key analyses, such as blood cell counts, in just two to three hours, eliminating the need to freeze and store samples.

Analyzing aging of the arteries in astronauts

The Vascular Aging investigation uses ultrasounds, blood samples, oral glucose tolerance tests, and wearable sensors to study aging-like changes that occur in many astronauts during their stay on the space station. It’s one of three Canadian experiments exploring the effects of weightlessness on the blood vessels and heart, and the links between these effects and bone health, blood biomarkers, insulin resistance, and radiation exposure. Increased understanding of these mechanisms can be used to address vascular aging in both astronauts and the aging Earth population.

Testing immune response in space

Spaceflight is known to have a dramatic influence on an astronaut’s immune response, but there is little research on its effect following an actual challenge to the body’s immune system. The rodent immune system closely parallels that of humans, and Rodent Research-12: Tetanus Antibody Response by B cells in Space (TARBIS) will examine the effects of spaceflight on the function of antibody production and immune memory. This investigation aims to advance the development of measures to counter these effects and help maintain crew health during future long-duration space missions. On Earth, it could advance research to improve the effectiveness of vaccines and therapies for treating diseases and cancers.

Big buzz for new robot

A fleet of small robots is set to take on big jobs aboard the space station. Building on the success of SPHERES, NASA will test Astrobee, a robotic system comprised of three cube-shaped robots and a docking station for recharging; the first two are aboard Cygnus. The free-flying robots use electric fans for propulsion and cameras and sensors help them navigate their surroundings. The robots also have an arm to grasp station handrails or grab and hold items. Astrobee can operate in automated mode or under remote control from the ground as it assists with routine chores on station, and requires no supervision from the crew. This has the potential to free up astronauts to conduct more research.

Learn more about space station activities by following @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.


  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The ISS program has become almost everything that it was envisioned for it in the 1980’s. It only took 20+ years.

  • TheBrett

    I suppose it at least still has another ten mission years.

    It’s a pity it’s still much too large and expensive for most of the microgravity research that it does. A much smaller station that’s only tended by astronauts rather than permanently occupied would be better and cheaper (with less vibrations to disturb sensitive microgravity stuff) for everything but the human long-term microgravity health research.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    If there were a real economy in orbit, these problems would be addressed by the presence of large, small, spinning, and tended space stations. We’re just not in that era yet. Getting onto the ISS is the same process as getting funded to conduct research at a University, which is not a real economy. We’ll get there eventually. Real economies are born from periods of artificial support and contrived reasons for existing. Eventually the fiction is forced to become reality.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yep, a 40 year detour because NASA needed to have a flagship mission for the Shuttle, and the Congressional Pork Machine. Smaler more focused stations launched by expendables would been much more successful.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    It was not a detour, we would have had nothing otherwise. The rail roads started as pork. Pork that smelled so bad that the term Rail Road became a synonym for being ripped off. The simple fact is most branches of the economy start out life as rackets of one sort or another.

  • duheagle

    You’re correct about ISS vs. nothing. The rest seems to have come straight out of your twisty left-wing brain.

    The railroads didn’t start as pork, but some of them became pork. It was the price of getting the political authorities of the time to refrain from strangling railroads in their cribs on behalf of the then-favored-by-government long-distance transport medium, canals.

    To be “railroaded” is not a synonym for being “ripped-off” where I come from, it’s a synonym for being unjustly accused and punished. The railroad reference is just because prisoner transport was one of the many uses of trains in the Old West. That has, in fact, been the basis for more than a few very good western films over the decades including the original version of 3:10 to Yuma. Yuma was the location of a notorious federal territorial prison in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

  • duheagle

    Real economies are generally born from real needs – or at least wants – and those able and willing to satisfy same. The Old West of the U.S. and Canada was pioneered and explored in-depth mostly by fur trappers, timber cutters and resource prospectors/miners. Once there was a significant economic base established, the military followed to protect same.

    There have, to be sure, been instances of artificial support and contrived reasons for existence. The canal-building binge in the early 19th century U.S. – which followed on the heels of a similar binge in the England of the late 18th century – was almost entirely government-driven in both cases and, in the long-term, was largely a waste of time and money. It was a notable failure of centralized government economic planning in the Pre-Marx era. In the face of competition from railroads, much of both canal networks were abandoned within a decade or two of construction. Canal projects since have been few and based, for the most part, on some actual economic benefit, though pork was always a consideration as well. The Tenn-Tom in the South and the St. Lawrence Seaway in the Upper Midwest and Northeast come to mind.

    Space, I think, is likely to be a mix that trends more toward the artificial in the early days, but which will transition to mostly private self-perpetuating status in fairly short order.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    You’re just simply wrong. The rail roads were corporations that made their money in their opening stages by government payment for track laid. It’s just simple history go read it. Their stocks and bonds were sold against those government payments.

    Being “railroaded” came about by being ripped off in the process of land purchases and transfers by nature of the land grants given the railroad corporations in exchange for tracks put in place and granted the corporations from the government.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I don’t disagree. And I even agree it has to go mostly private. We just disagree when and how. You think now, I think not quite yet, but the process is starting. If Chinese hybrid state capitalism does not collapse, and collapse hard, it may set the flavor for development of the Solar System in which case we’ll both be wrong.

  • delphinus100

    Indeed. Those who also say that the Shuttle itself has kept us ‘stuck’ in LEO don’t understand that post-Apollo, the Moon and Mars were entirely off the table. The choices were essentially the Shuttle, ‘Big Gemini,’ or nothing.

    And in the 1993(?) Congressional debates in which ISS came within one vote of cancellation, I’m pretty sure that none of them said anything to the effect of; ‘We should use this money to go back to the Moon or to Mars, instead…’

  • ThomasLMatula

    Where have you been getting your history from? Most railroads were privately funded. The transcontinental was the exception and it only received government guarantee loans which were All paid off on schedule. There were no pork involved. Now if you want to talk pork the Post Road System might qualify. But there were also military aspects to it.

    Yes, the ISS was a detour, the alternative were proposals to return to the Moon using the Shuttle, including Shuttle C, to deliver elements to Earth for a lunar transportation system.

  • Vladislaw

    Wrong .. they all got subsidized in one form or the other .. from gravel to timber to land and right aways given for free… none of them were 100% private.

  • ThomasLMatula

    And if the ISS has not been approved would the Shuttle have stopped flying? Or would other missions have been found for it? More SpaceHab flight perhaps? Or tech demonstrations like it did in the 1980’s? Instead it became focus of building the ISS, which ate up the NASA budget preventing anything else from being done.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The government did not pay per mile for track laid, they allowed the railroad to issue bonds for a set amount per mile. A bond is a loan that has to be paid back with interest. That is the problem getting your history from historians who don’t understand how finance works. I find it’s funny how scientists, who owe the emergence of science to the wealth generated by Capitalism in 17th Century Europe always try to promote a socialist view of history that has no basis in fact.

  • ThomasLMatula

    In continental Europe maybe, but not in the United States. The government was transferring Western lands away to everyone in the 19th Century, in exchange for them adding value to it. How do you think the Homestead Act, the Morris Act and 1867 Mining Act worked? Boy, have you been fed a lot of wrong history by anti-business instructors. That is why I have to teach a history class to my business students. One that explains how railroads, roads, canals, etc. were actually built and financed.

    In the case of the Transcontinental Railroad the financing was in the form of loans to the railroad based on the number of miles of track laid. The railroad made both direct payments on the loans after a grace period as well as retiring them by transporting military cargo at a reduced rate. The last of the UP loans were paid off in the 1930’s.

    The land grants were based again on track laid, but given in a checkered board patten. The economic exchange was that the availability of rapid transport increased the value of the government land left. This made it easier to sell to settlers, timber companies and miners. In the 19th Century government land sales was a significant source of federal funding.

  • P.K. Sink
  • ThomasLMatula

    Maybe that is another reason why its a flop there, it just hits too close to home…

    Why ‘Star Wars’ is a global phenomenon in just about every country — except China

    Wed, Apr 10 2019 • 10:00 AM EDT
    Sarah Whitten

  • P.K. Sink

    I did not know that. Thanks for the link.

  • duheagle

    I don’t think quite now, but fairly soon – probably within a decade.

    The process is definitely starting. So far, most of that process seems to consist of SpaceX taking on progressively more of the total necessary job as NASA falters and fades – a process I see doing nothing but accelerating in the next few years.

    The Chinese system, having dug itself a miles-deep demographic hole this past half-century, has now flung itself in. It hasn’t hit bottom yet, but that’s coming. As with a human body falling a comparable distance, the results are not going to be pretty. The only real question is whether China will content itself with curling into a fetal position for several decades while the mistakes of the past work their way out of the Chinese system or whether the regime will strike outward first in a doomed effort to distract its population from the severe consequences of the coming collapse. Either way, I don’t see the Chinese having a lot of margin to put toward doing things in space.

  • duheagle

    The PRC is The Empire without the style.

  • duheagle

    Who should I read? Howard Zinn?

    Railroads made money by actually running trains and hauling things as soon as enough track existed to connect two points previously only served via roads and wagons. The rail networks were largely self-financing their own growth.

    The transcontinental railway was sort of a special case as there was nothing much on its route initially, just at its endpoints. So the land grants were made as incentive. As Matula notes, this wasn’t exactly a government giveaway as the government, which retained half the land along the rights-of-way and all the land a mile or more each side of the rights-of-way, got a major increase in its value from the appearance of the railroad. The railroad catalyzed all sorts of economic development and population centers along its routes just as national highways would in the 20th century.

    And you’re still wrong about the etymology of “railroaded.” Your second explanation is no more coherent than your first. Who, exactly, was getting “ripped off” when the government granted lands to railroads? You have identified neither a putative victim class nor a mechanism by which the alleged ripping off took place. The government increased the value of its own remaining holdings via grants to railroads, so it doesn’t seem to have been the government that came up short. Was it, in your view, the ordinary citizen? A lot of them decided to take up the government anent the Homestead Act only after the railroads made getting to and from what had formerly been the middle of nowhere relatively easy. No victims there. Help us out here.

  • P.K. Sink

    Great pic…and so on point. Most Americans have no clue that China is a military dictatorship. The way that they have been creating islands in the South China Sea, militarizing them, and creating exclusion zones around them gives us a pretty good clue as to what we can expect from them in space. Hopefully time will mellow their attitude and actions.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Historically when things go bad in China it tends to implode as it did in the Warlord Era after the end of the Qing Dynasty. Most folks in the west don’t realize the huge diversity of China, different regions have different languages, traditions, religions, economes, etc. When the central authority weakens these differences create fractures which lead to internal conflicts. The huge differences in the standard of living in coastal urban areas and rural areas, the forced inclusion of regions like Tibet and Xiajiang, makes this the most likely result if the regime is seriously weaken by an economic collaspe, which is one reason President Xi doing everything possible to prevent it. Add in that China is surrounded by nations like Vietnam, Taiwan, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Russia ready to take advantage of such fractures and it will be a real mess, far worst than the fragmentation of the Soviet Union.

  • duheagle

    The PRC isn’t likely to mellow any – at least voluntarily – under the leadership of self-declared President-for-life Xi. The only thing that might force such a mellowing is the looming demographic and economic catastrophe now in the early stages of a half-century or longer run. But one can’t rest too much weight on such a possibility. Totalitarian nations often react to bad times with even more displays of aggression.

  • duheagle

    I don’t at all discount the possibility of things playing out as you hypothesize. One should simply be aware that your scenario is actually the best-case one. The worst cases would be China starting an external war of aggression on some pretext to distract its population from the domestic collapse that is coming. I say “cases” – plural – because the actual awfulness of this scenario will be determined, to a large degree, by which of its neighbors China chooses to attack. Vietnam would be bad enough, for example, but India or Russia would be far worse.

  • P.K. Sink

    I’m afraid you’re right. But I’m gonna keep hoping…while I keep hoping that the U.S stays strong to act as a deterrent to their worst impulses.