Finished in 2011, the International Space Station is a critical source of data for space agencies across the globe.
Regular expeditions have gone to the ISS to conduct critical research to gain insights into life in space. A recent mission, Expedition 56, was the fifty-sixth manned crew to the ISS. This expedition was part of a continued, international collaboration that’s been happening with the ISS for the last 17 years.
Expedition 56 ran from June 1, 2018 to October 1, 2018. Expedition 56 left Earth on the Soyuz MS-07 in June and arrived back on Earth in the Soyuz MS-08. During their time in space, the crew of Expedition 56 gathered an exceptional amount of data, furthering our understanding of the universe’s great mysteries.
The Expedition 56 crew was a joint venture between American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts.
The mission included the following crew:
Expedition 56 had three main goals for the excursion: study the behavior of atoms, document microbial growth, and experiment with navigation in space. The crew studied these items to gather data for future deep-space exploration.
Goal #1: Study the behavior of atoms in extreme conditions
Expedition 56 studied the behavior of atoms using the Ultra-Cold Atoms Cold Atom Lab (CAL). During the experiments, they created a temperature ten billion times colder than the vacuum of space. They then used lasers to slow the atoms to be nearly motionless. The crew was then able to observe atoms much more easily.
They uncovered data that indicates the behavior of atoms under extreme conditions. In the future, this research could be used to improve electronics and computers.
Goal #2: Study microbial growth on the space station
The second purpose of the mission was to study the microbes growing in the ISS environment. The crew identified microbes using Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST).
This technology enables the crew to monitor mutations in microbes that are a direct result of spaceflight. This research will be used in the future to protect the health of humans in flight.
Goal #3: Experiment with space navigation capabilities
What happens if you’re traveling in space and your computer navigation fails? Astronauts experimented with this very scenario on Expedition 56. They used a handheld sextant to navigate. By measuring sighted angles between celestial bodies, the sextant could be used to navigate in the event of computer failure.
There were three spacewalks during Expedition 56, two by American astronauts and one by Russian cosmonauts.
America’s Feustel and Arnold did maintenance and upgrades during their spacewalks. They upgraded external cameras on the ISS, including cameras that will be used by commercial space partners, Boeing and SpaceX. They also replaced the cooling and communications parts on the ISS, as well as installed new antennas for experiments.
Russia’s Artemyev and Prokopyev did a spacewalk to manually launch four small satellites. They also installed a device called Icarus to the Russian part of ISS.
The bottom line
Expedition 56 comes at a crucial time when private entities and other governments want to get involved in spaceflight. NASA will continue research to see if we can establish a presence in the solar system beyond the ISS’s low Earth orbit.
The future of space exploration is going to take a truly collaborative effort. This means the future of flight will develop better, safer, and more efficient technology to put humans into deep space.