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Crew Prepares for Student Robotics Competition
by Staff Writers
Houston TX (SPX) Jan 07, 2013

Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn (left) helps Commander Kevin Ford set up the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) in the Kibo module of the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV.

The Expedition 34 crew wrapped up its first workweek of the new year aboard the International Space Station with scientific research, routine maintenance and preparations for robotics competition taking place aboard the complex next week.

Commander Kevin Ford and Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn, both NASA astronauts, configured bowling-ball-sized free-flying satellites known as Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES.

Station crews beginning with Expedition 8 have operated these robots to test techniques that could lead to advancements in automated dockings, satellite servicing, spacecraft assembly and emergency repairs.

During the SPHERES Zero Robotics competition on Friday, Jan. 11, teams of high school students will gather at the European Space Research and Technology Center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., to watch the best teams' algorithms command the free-flying robots through a series of maneuvers and objectives.

In addition to assisting Ford with the SPHERES set up, Marshburn donned hardware to monitor his blood pressure, heart rate and activity levels for the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment.

Researchers are studying the atrophy of the heart muscle that appears to occur during long-duration spaceflight to develop countermeasures to keep the crew healthy. The research may also have benefits for people on Earth with heart problems.

Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency spent some time working with the hardware for the European Space Agency's Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System, or MARES, which studies the effects of microgravity on a crew member's muscular system during spaceflight.

As crew members use the MARES hardware to exercise, it measures seven different human joints, encompassing nine different angular movements, as well as two additional linear movements for the arms and legs.

Hadfield later used a vacuum to clean a fan filter within the European Drawer Rack inside the Columbus module.

On the Russian side of the station, Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin conducted the BAR experiment, which looks at methods and instruments for detecting the location of an air leak from one of the station's modules.

Novitskiy also stowed trash and unneeded items inside the ISS Progress 48 cargo craft for disposal when that vehicle completes its mission at the station in February and undocks from the station's Pirs docking compartment for a destructive re-entry.

The third cosmonaut aboard the station, Flight Engineer Roman Romanenko, worked with a Russian experiment studying plasma crystal formation in microgravity. Romanenko rounded out his day with some troubleshooting on a display screen inside the Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft that brought him to the station on Dec. 21 along with Hadfield and Marshburn.

Being members of an international crew, the astronauts and cosmonauts of Expedition 34 will enjoy a three-day weekend with the observance of the Russian Orthodox Christmas holiday on Monday.

Crew members will have an opportunity to talk with family back on Earth through video-teleconferencing, conduct routine housekeeping chores and continue their daily two-hour exercise regimen to keep fit during their five months aboard the orbiting complex.


Related Links
Zero Robotics website
SPHERES Zero Robotics
All about the robots on Earth and beyond!

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