Blog of our ESA SPHEROIDS mission
Behind the scenes of our ESA SPHEROIDS mission December 2015-January 2016
... or whenever the launch takes place
... which might finally be the case in April 2016!
by Jessica Pietsch
13.05.16 The Dragon has landed!
Sorry for not posting more often. But with so many waiting times, a summary is much more fulfilling to read. :) So let me give you an overview about the last couple of days.
The NASA live stream of the undocking of Dragon on Wednesday, May 11th 2016, was great to follow. During the live stream, all times were given as central time (CDT). Therefore, this time will also be given here.
Dragon was released prior to the live stream from the ISS around 6:02 a.m. CDT (~7:02 a.m. EDT, ~13:02 here in Germany, Fig. 53) and held on to by the robotic arm (Fig. 54).
The release was operated by Tim Peake. At 8:19 a.m. CDT (9:19 a.m. EDT, 15:19 in Germany), Dragon was released from the robotic arm (Fig. 55) while the ISS was 260 miles above Adelaide in Soutwest Australia. Over the next several minutes, 3 departure burns were performed to navigate Dragon to a save distance away from the ISS. Afer the successful release, Tim wished all experiments on bord of Dragon a safe journey home. Thank you Tim for taking such good care of our experiment the whole time it was on the ISS. :)
At this distance, Dragon orbited the Earth 3-times until 1:01 p.m. CDT (2:01 p.m. EDT, 20:01 in Germany) when the Dragon fired the Draco thrusters for the deorbitng burn. As planned, the parachutes opened and the Dragon capsule landed safely in the Pacific ocean at 1:55 p.m. CDT (2:55 p.m. EDT, 21:55 in Germany, Fig. 56) where it was recovered by SpaceX for its transport back to Long Beach Harbor, California, USA. For a more detailed minute by minuted report see Live coverage on Spaceflightnow
During the descend of Dragon, Paolo from ALTEC was on his way to Long Beach Harbor, California, USA. The ship with Dragon was expected to be back in the harbor around noon local time (pacific day time, PDT) on Thursday, May 12th. Paolo informed us last night, that experiment container were checked and turned over to the transport company World Courier at 2:25 p.m. PDT (5:25 EDT, 23:25 in Germany). We expect the delivery next week on Tuesday. :)
11.05.16 Speak of the devil :)
Yesterday, from about 07:40 GMT until about 08:00 GMT (about 9:40-10:00 a.m. here in Germany), the experiment container were removed from cold storage and packed in the padded transport bags. Tim Peake then packed them into Dragon for their return to Earth. As if the experiment container whispered in my ear yesterday. ;)
Dragon will unbearth from the ISS today at 09:18 a.m. EDT (15:18 here in Germany). There will be a live broadcast on NASA TV - all channels. So if you have time feel free to take a look.
Paolo from ALTEC is flying to the US today to oversee the retrieval of our experiment and to bring it on its way to Europe. According to him, the "customs documentation on US side is pretty finalized, ESA Customs Form already available at World Courier/Hamburg where the samples will be cleared for final delivery to Magdeburg". He will keep us updated on the return schedule. Let's hope everything goes smooth and we may expect the experiment container in our lab next week.
10.05.16 Still waiting for the return
For the last two weeks, we received reports every other day that all cooled experiment container in the KUBIK are still on 6°C. KUBIK is holding the temperature. We are waiting now to be informed that all 8 experiments were loaded into Dragon for their transport back to Earth. Hopefully we will get this message tomorrow.
From Italy (ALTEC) we hear that the documents for customs clearance for the shipment back to Europe were finalized. It seems that ALTEC authrized the company World Courier with the transport.
21.04.16 Everything is cool(ed)
The last couple of days, we were looking forward to heare about the cold storage of our remaining 14 day expeiments on the ISS. Since the cold storage of the EUs from KUBIK 5 one week ago, we received several times a notice that KUBIK 6 with the 14 day experiments is still running and is keeping its temperature. Finally, late yesterday afternoon we got the e-mail in which the cooling of the EUs in KUBIK 6 was confirmed. Since 13:13 GMT on April 20th, all experiments are stored and are now awaiting their 'drop out of the sky'.
The EUs will come down with the dragon they went up with. The unberthing - the undocking - of dragon is planned for May 11th. The splash down and return to port is expected to last about 31 hours. If this timeline will be kept we may expect the EUs back in our lab in calender week 20. :)
14.04.16 The first half of the experiment is already fixed and stored at 4°C
During our trip home while we were still in the air, Tim Peake deinstalled the EUs of KUBIK 5 with the 7 day experiments at 6:59 GMT and stored them at 4°C five minutes later. The other KUBIK is running without any hiccups. :)
Before we left, we droped by at the port Canaveral. The first stage of our Falcon 9 rocket was back in port (Fig. 52). With the successful landing on a platform at sea, Space X took another step in the direction of their reusable launch system. To date, a launch of a Falcon 9 costs 61.2 Million $. This price may be reduced to 40 Million for a rocket with a reused first stage. The first stage is the first of two and longer burning engines of the 70 m long Falcon 9 rocket. The engines of both the first and the second stage burn a mixture of liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene as fuel. If you like to get more information about the rocket you may either visit the Space X homepage or use any search engine looking for Falcon 9.
11.04.16 Experiment started on the ISS
The dragon capsule with our experiment on board arrived at the ISS on Sunday morning, April 10th, at 7:23 AM (EST) and was installed about 2.5 hours later. During the unloading, Tim Peake prepared the KUBIK incubators on the ISS to receive our experiment containers. They were installed this morning in KUBIK 5 (the 7 day experiments) at 15:03 GMT and in KUBIK 6 (the 14 day experiments) at 15:08 GMT. GMT is the Greenwich Mean Time which is routinely used on the ISS and is identical to UTC+0 (Coordinated Universal Time). Right now, local time in Germany is UTC+2. Anyhow, our experiment was started successfully. Everything worked smoothly so far. We hope and cross our fingers that it stays that way. :)
After everyone already left the laboratories and even the US, Lasse, David and I went to the lab in the SSPF for one final time to prepare the cells we froze during our preparation for their shipment to Europe. We had to be there to hand the box with dry ice over to FedEx. As a nice side effect we came very near to the VAB again and took a picture in front of it (Fig. 50). Everything went well and they are on their way. We need the cells to prepare the ground control experiment.
Before we left the SSPF with Bob to send the box on its way, we got to enjoy a meal with the astronauts on the ISS. You wonder how this is possible? Quite easy. There was left over frozen Klondike (Fig. 51) which was used on SpaceX 8 as a cargo to fill up empty space. It was delicious. :)
Tomorrow, we will head back to Europe. And then the wait for the return of the experiment container begins.
09.04.16 Day one after launch
Sorry everyone for not posting anything yesterday. After the launch, we were in another dimension - we were celebrating the launch and were not able to do much beside it. ;) I think the sleepless nights helped a bit in zooming out.
Let me show you some impressions of yesterday. We had the great opportunity to visit the launch pad in the morning (Fig. 45). And of course, we made a team picture in front of the rocket (Fig. 46). Unfortunately, not all members were there at the same time. But you see the majority of the team on the picture.
Following this excursion, we continued to prepare the EUs for the possible third launch attempt on the April 11th. So we went back to the lab and sat at the cleanbenches assembling EUs. 2 EUs were finished until about 4 PM. After that, we went to a very nice viewpoint (Fig. 47). The distance between us and the rocket was about 4 miles (6,5 km). We made another group picture (Fig. 48) which now shows almost the whole team. When I am talking about the team I mean everyone who is/was here at the KSC to bring SPHEROIDS on its way to the ISS. However, there are and were many, many more people involved to make this experiment a success so far - just to mention some: Nadine, Jason and Andrea from ESA, and the DLR.
It was a great experience to view the successful launch from the viewpoint (Fig. 47). We could hear the popping/rattling sound of the engines - I don't know if this is actually called popping/rattling so please forgive any wrong terms - which were really, really loud. The rocket launched on time at 4:43 PM (Fig. 49) and is now on its way to the ISS.
The rendezvous between the Dragon capsule and the ISS is estimated to take place 34.1 hours after launch. There will be a live stream of the rendezvous (5:30 AM EST) as well as the installation of Dragon to the ISS (9:30 AM EST) on NASA TV - all channels - tomorrow, Sunday April 10th.
Today, we packed our equipment and now we are waiting for Schenker to pick up the metal boxes from RUAG, Kayser Italia and us. Schenker is scheduled to arrive at 4:00 PM. The mission here in the KSC is almost completed. We now have to wait for the return of the experiments. Meanwhile, we will be informed when and what happens with our ECs on the ISS. BIOTESC, located in Hergiswil, Switzerland, is monitoring everything related to our experiment on board the ISS, meaning they will be following everything the astronaut is doing with the containers. I will check if the astronaut in charge for this task will be Tim Peake.
06.-07.04.16 A long successful night completed
First of all:
8 EUs were handed over to NASA for loading into Dragon for the launch tomorrow.
To reach this goal we all, science, RUAG and Kayser Italia had a very long day - or rather a very long night. We met in the lab on Wednesday (06.04.) around 13:30 and went through the time plan for the cell culture chamber integration in all assembled 12 EUs. We scientists started around 15:00 to pre-fill the chambers and finally finished injecting the cells in all 24 chambers around 18:30. Afterwards, we proceeded to integrate them into the respective EUs (Fig 42). We finished with the integration at around 23:00, thus perfectly staying in the alloted time. The EUs were handed over to RUAG for further processing.
RUAG checked all EUs prior to final integration into the transport containers (KIC) in which they will go up to the ISS (Fig. 43). Especially the drying of the glue took quite some time. The leak test itself lasted at least 15 minutes. All 12 EUs passed all the tests. :)
RUAG then handed the EUs over to Kayser Italia for the integration of the EUs into the KIC (Fig. 44). Although RUAG checked all 12 EUs we assembled, only 8 EUs were integrated into KIC. These together are called experiement container (EC). On top of each EC, there is a battery-like looking piece of metal. This is not a battery but a temperature logger. It will provide the exact temperature profile of the whole mission after the return of the samples, so that we will be able to repeat it for the ground control experiement.
The last step, after integration into the KIC, was the arming of the EC meaning programming the electronics when the pumps and valves start to run either to change the nutrishent liquid for the cells or to fix them. This was completed around 5:00 AM in the morning of April 7th. So a long day came to an end.
And even though we are all very happy about the successful completion of the assembly and waitng with great anticipation for the launch tomorrow, we have to start with preparation of a further set of EC in case of a launch scrub nevertheless already today. We will meet again in the lab at 16:00.
However, the weather forecast we got from NASA and the airforce today April 7th predicts a 90% probability of a launch for tomorrow. In respect to the weather at least. So we all think almost solely about a launch tomorrow. Cross you fingers. :)
05.04.16 Almost the final count down
The last 4 EUs were assembled and stored until integration of the cell culture chambers tomorrow either at 4°C for PFA (Fig. 40) or at room temperature for RNAlater. We finished even later today than the days before. Not everything went completely smooth. But in the end, all was straightened out. I looked at it as a successful dress rehearsal. ;)
While the assembly was taking place, the team of Kayser Italia and Raimondo waited for someone to come by to test the fitting of the SPHEROIDS transport boxes into the basket in which they will be stored in the fridge (MELFI) on-board the ISS (Fig. 41).
And even though today was really exhausting, we cannot take some rest tomorrow. The filling and integration into the EUs of the cell culture chambers is pending. All 12 EUs assembled so far will be made ready. So you see, there is always much to do.
04.04.16 Second round finished! :)
Today, Christin and Stefan started again with the assembly of the EUs. This time EU05 and EU06. Meanwhile, David and Jessica wrestled down the autoclave again and sterlized some more dI water (Fig. 34). ;)
Beside the assembly, we changed the media in the cell culture flasks. The cells are almost 80 to 85% confluent (Fig. 36) and will be absolutely great in two days when we will inject them into the cell culture chambers of the EUs. Depending on the experiment duration, different numbers of cells will be injected. This will also decide in which incubator on the ISS the EUs will be installed. The incubator used for our experiment is called KUBIK. There are two on-board of the ISS: KUBIK 5 and KUBIK 6. In one, only the 7 day experiments, in the other all 14 day experiments will be installed. Therefore, the correct labelling of the EUs will be of utmost importance so that the astronauts will install the EUs into the correct KUBIK. The labelling will be done by Kayser Italia and we went through the labelling scheme so that everyone is properly informed.
In case of a launch scrub, we will have to prepare a second set of EUs. The time we will have to prepare the second set is much shorter. So we started today with the preparation, meaning that we wrapped the EUs for autoclaving (Fig. 37). But no more about this now. Let us go into more detail only if absolutely necessary . ;)
One of the last actions today was the wrapping of the EU07, assembled by David (Fig. 38A), and the wrapping of EU08 (Fig. 39), assembled by Jessica (Fig. 38B), in antistatic bags. After stowing, we were finally able to call it a day. :)
03.04.16 The first round of hardware assembly
Today started the first day of our shift system. Christin and Stefan were in the lab as early as 8:30 AM to start the assembly of their first experiment units (EU) together with RUAG. EU is the official name used by RUAG and Kayser Italia for the experiment container. The EU contains compartments for the cells, the media as well as the fixative. Since we want to elucidate the effect of VEGF on our cells, each EU consits of two cell culture chambers (-/+ VEGF), two medium chambers for the change of the medium, two supernatant chambers for the medium, which has to be removed from the cell culture chambers prior to fixation, as well as one shared fixative chamber. With two different experiment durations (7 and 14 days) we have 8 different samples (see table below). In total, we are able to send each combination twice to the ISS.
|EU||Experiment side||Duration (days)||VEGF||Fixative|
During the assembly over the next several days, we will not only assemble 8 but 12 EUs. 4 EUs are a back up in case one of the others does not get through the final check up. This check up qualifies that the EU is not leaking and ready to run and thus to get an approval to be transported to the ISS. So, should one EU not pass this final test, we'll have 4 spares to choose from.
But back to our shift. David and Jessica replaced Stefan and Christin at around 2 PM for the assembly of their EUs (Fig. 33A). The last step of today's assemblies was the integration of the electronics which enable the EUs to be pre-programmed. Thus, only a very limited time of the astronauts is needed to perform the experiment. Actually, only crew-time required is to install the EUs into the incubators on board the ISS as well as to store the EUs after completition of the experiments at 4°C. And of course to pack them for their journey back to earth.
At the end of the day, the team drank a cup of freshly brewed espresso (Fig. 34). It is good to have a native Italian in the team. Thank you Raimondo. :)
02.04.16 Sterilization of the pumps and valves
The experiment containers we are going to send up to the ISS enable the exchange of the medium for the cells once as well as to fix the cells. Therefore, the container has to have several compartments which are interconnected, but are not constantly exchanging liquids. Thus, valves between the compartments are needed. During the exchange of the medium, the liquids have to be transported from one compartment to the other. For this, a pump is essential. Both, pumps and valves, however, are components which could not be autoclaved and have to be sterilzed by other means. We went for the sterilization with ethanol (soaking for 10 minutes) and flushing with sterile dI water (likewise soaking for 10 minutes) afterwards. All in all, for one experiment container the sterilization as well as the mounting of the valves on the corresponding component of the container took more than 1 hour. And although we worked in two cleanbenches (Fig. 32) in parallel, it took us around 10 hours to sterilize them for all 12 experiment containers. Each step had to be documented by RUAG as a quality check required by NASA. Thus, each step took a bit longer than if you could do it without double-checking.
After this very long day, tomorrow will bring a bit of a respite. We will start the assembly of four experiment containers. One for each of us. About 4 hours are planned for the assembly of one container. And since we are going to work in shifts, this should be easy to cope with.
01.04.16 The first long day in the lab
The teams of RUAG and Kayser Italia arrived on time this morning for their safety and security briefing. While they completed it, we already started with our work in the lab for the day. We filled the pre-labelled tubes (see 30.03.16) with either 45 ml of medium or 40 ml of fixative. As medium (the nutrient solution for the cells), we use the RPMI 1640 medium supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum (FCS) and 1% antibiotics. For the experiment, we will further supplement half of the hardwares with the growth factor Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF). So we prepared two different media (-/+ VEGF) for the assembly. While filling the tubes we passed both media and fixatives through sterile filters to be 100 % sure that they are not contaminated in any way (Fig. 28). As fixatives, we use for half of the experiments paraformaldehyde (PFA) and for the other half RNAlater. With the PFA, we want to fix three-dimensional cell aggregates we hope will form in space. With RNAlater, the RNA inside the cells will be preserved until the return to our lab in Germany for further analysis.
And of course, we had to tend to our cells. We subcultured them into 16 cell culture flasks in total (Fig. 29). Moreover, we used the rest of the cells to freeze samples for later use. Freezing is done by supplementing medium containing 20% FCS with 10% dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). The DMSO prevents the formation of very large ice crystals during the freezing and opens the cell membranes a bit. Large ice crystals would destroy the cells. Due to its cell opening effect, DMSO is toxic for the cells. So it is really onyl used for the described procedure. The cells are frozen first for about 2 hours at -20°C followed by a storage at -80°C over night. Tomorrow, we will put them into liquid nitrogen (-196°C). The tank with the liquid nitrogen was filled by Bob. He wore very nice gear for protection (Fig. 30). The frozen cells will be needed for the reference experiments on earth. They will take place not in parallel but after the experiments on the ISS will be completed and we will know exactly what happened when. This way we will be able to exactly simulate the mission without the reduced gravity.
While we were doing all this, RUAG checked the hardwares and all the other equipment they sent to KSC. Around 4:30 PM, we were able to prepare the hardwares for sterilization in the autoclave. For this, we wrapped all possible parts of the hardware in aluminum foil and put them into large beakers. Each hardware had its own beaker (Fig. 31). The wrapping took around an hour and it was already around 5:45 PM when we finalliy started the sterilization program of the autoclave. We agreed that we will let the autoclave run over night and will get the hardwares out in the morning tomorrow.
I was asked if there will be a live broadcast of the launch of the SpaceX rocket (SpaceX/Dragon CRS-8). I looked it up and yes, there will be a live stream on NASA TV. You can find it here the NASA TV schedule. The launch will be shown on all NASA TV channels. Enjoy.
31.03.16 "The quiet before the storm"
Today was the last day in the forseeable future with something resembling of a quiet time. Tomorrow morning, we will be in the lab from 9 AM awaiting the arrival of RUAG and Kayser Italia as well as Raimondo from ESA. From then on, it will be shift work until the successful launch.
We used the time today to go shopping for some souvenirs for our families and friends. While in Orlando, Bob called concerning a shipment from RUAG which was held up at FedEx in Memphis. Luckily, the RUAG team arrived already yesterday and we could give Bob the telephone number of one of them. The last info we got is that the goods will now be shipped to KSC without further delay.
In the evening, we baked a loaf of bread again (Fig. 27). This time, we not only interspersed the dough made out of whole wheat flour, water, yeast, salt and vinegar with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, but also with minced carrots. We are looking forward to taste it tomorrow. Baking bread is kind of inevitable if you like to eat bread as we know it in Germany.
Today, normal labwork was on our schedule. We changed the medium in the culture flasks with the cells after checking how they had grown since Monday. They will be ready for the next subcultivation step on Friday. This will be the last time we hopefully have to propagate the cells before injecting them into the hardware units.
The assembly of the individual hardwares will begin on Saturday with the sterilization of the pumps and valves. For this step, we need sterile deionized water (dI water). We filled 8 glass bottles with dI water and autocalved them. The autoclave we can use here is really large (Fig. 24). All hardware units, at least their plastic parts, will be sterilized by autoclaving. Since the autoclave is this large, it will be no problem to treat all components at once. This will save much needed time.
During the run of the autoclave program, we not only changed medium as mentioned above, but we also prepared the paraformaldehyde fixative solution as well as labelled several plastic tubes for Friday (Fig. 25). We will prepare a set of 3 plastic tubes for each hardware we assemble. They will be filled with liquids on Friday. A more detailed explanation will be given then. It would have been an option to wait with the labelling until Friday, but doing it today, will give us more time to concentrate on more important things. Better to prepare things in advance as much as possible. The upcoming schedule is tight as it is.
Since mentioning a timetable, perhaps you would like to know what lays ahead of us during the next days:
|day||what to do|
|Friday||sterilizing 16 hardwares with autoclave|
|Saturday||sterilizing pumps and valves of 12 hardwares and integrate them into hardware|
|Sunday||assembly of hardware 1-4 without cell injection|
|Monday||assembly of hardware 5-8 without cell injection|
|Tuesday||assembly of hardware 9-12 without cell injection|
|Wednesday||cell injection and final filling, in the night to Thursday handover of hardwares to NASA|
After handover, we will be starting the assembly of the hardwares for a possible launch scrub on Thursday, as the planned launch times by NASA will not allow us to wait for the return of the hardwares after the launch scrub.
Upon leaving the lab today, we saw two more alligators near the SSPF. One of them seemed to be a bit larger judging by the size of the head looking out of the water (Fig. 26).
29.03.16 Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
I was contacted last Friday by Stephen Smith, a tour guide of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. He is following this very blog and was interested to meet up and talk about our research. He offered to take us on a tour (Launch Complex Tour) at the KSC and to see how he and his colleagues may try to advertise space research to the general population. The main attraction of the tour is the visit of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and Launch Control Center (view from the outside, Fig. 22). The VAB was constructed in the 1960s for the assembly of the Saturn V rocket with which the Apollo missions to the moon were launched. Later, the building was used for the final assembly of the Space Shuttle. Since the end of the Shuttle program 2011, the VAB is currently rebuilt on the inside, so that it can be used for the new NASA Space Launch System.
Arriving at the VAB and entering the LCC, Stephen talked about the past and the future of the space program in the US. He told the other tourists on the tour that we were scientists from Germany and Denmark who will send an experiment to the ISS with the upcoming SpaceX mission and asked us to shortly describe what we are doing. It was a great opportunity. During the rest of the tour through the LCC, we even got asked some direct questions. It was nice to see how 'normal' people are interested in what we do. Most often we come in contact with other scientists of the field or scientists who are interested in joining the space research group when talking about our research. :)
The tour ended at the Apollo Saturn V Center where we said goodbye to Stephen. From there we drove back with a bus to the Visitor Complex and visited the Space Shuttle Atlantis (Fig. 23). Even though I saw the Atlantis already two years ago, I could appreciate the size better after walking by the old payloads the day before (Fig. 19). It is hard to grasp how powerful the rockets for the Space Shuttle must have been to lift all this. I think you only ever really can get it if you had the fortune to see a launch with your own eyes here in Cape Canaveral where you not only could see but also could hear the power and feel the pressure and heat of the engines even from far away.
After today taking the time to advertise our job, we will be in the lab again tomorrow. On Friday, RUAG, KI and the ESA agent for SPHEROIDS will arrive and get their safety and security briefing. Bob asked me to send the offical invitation to all of them. On Friday, they will contact me when they arrive at the SSPF and I will pick them up in the lobby. The briefing will last until around 11:30 AM. Afterwards, RUAG and KI will unpack all of their material and we will hopefully be able to autoclave all hardwares in preparation of the assembly which starts on Saturday. This will herald the hot phase of the launch. Keep your fingers crossed. :)
28.03.16 Badging office - second round
We all met this morning at the badging office to get the bagdes for Christin, Stefan and Lasse. Now all 5 of us are able to enter the restricted area of KSC. After the safety and security briefing, Bob took us on a tour through the processing bays in which a lot of large modules were/are prepared for the launch to the ISS. As the SSPF was built in the 1990s, payloads for the Space Shuttles were processed in the rooms we visited today. Among the first porcessed cargos were the different modules for the construction of the International Space Station (ISS) itself. Some old modules are still there (Fig. 19). Bob had some really funny stories to tell. It was a great experience. One nice tidbit: in panel A of Fig. 18 you can see windows in the wall. From there, visitors of the KSC are able to look into the room. Well, we did not have to look through a window. ;) Thank you Bob.
In the lab, we went through the work plan for this week and we changed the medium of the cells. They are looking great, by the way (Fig. 20). On Wednesday, we will start preparing the media and fixatives for the assembly of the hardwares. When the assembly timeline begins on Friday we will have no time to do it.
Upon leaving for today, we made a picture of ourselves in front of the SSPF (Fig. 21). Unfortunately, the weather was not so nice today again. All cloudy with only partial sunshine. The forecast says that from tomorrow on we can expect better weather. This is great, as we will visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex tomorrow.
If you want to follow the countdown of our launch, visit the Kennedy Space Center homepage. In the upper right corner of the site, you can see a countdown to the next launch. If you klick on it you will be forwarded to an information site about the rocket launch. Enjoy.
27.03.16 A day to recharge
Yesterday afternoon, David and I drove to Orlando International Airport to welcome our next team members. Before we left, we witnessed a demonstration (Fig. 18) at a traffic light in front of our hotel. The people demonstrated for the rescue of the lagoon here in Florida. There is a widespread perishing of fish around here. The protestors demanded not only short but particularly long term efficient actions from their government. As far as we understood the perishing of the fish was due to a high algae growth which in turn was caused by several factors. We got into a conversation with one of the protestors and she told us that the goverment was not doing enough to protect the environment from her point of view. One of the problems seems to be that the area has to cope with too many new residents moving in too fast. According to her, around 1,000 people a day relocate to Florida. When she recognized that we come from Germany, she praised our high number of renewable energy sources and our path of environmental awareness. :-)
But back to work. David and I arrived at the airport way in advance to the expected arrival time of the flight with Stefan, Christin and Lasse. We wanted to extend the duration of our rental car. On our way to the airport, we saw many very dark clouds in the sky but were not really concerned as heavy rain with thunder and lightning was forecast. This thunderstorm, however, caused a severe delay of many flights. The flight of Stefan, Christin and Lasse was even redirected to Tampa. So instead of arriving around 19:00 they eventually came out of the security area long after 23:00. For all of them it was a very tedious travel day. For David and me, it was a more than 5 hour wait at the airport. So today, we all recharge and the three newcomers try to adapt to the new time zone.
Tomorrow, we will all meet at 9:00 at the KSC badging office to get the badges and then proceed to the SSPF for the safety and security briefing. But more about this tomorrow.
25.03.16 Sunny morning after thunderstrom in the night with much rain
For the whole day yesterday the weather forecast predicted severe thunderstorms for the evening and throughout the night. Even hail was an option. Around sunset, the first rain drops fell (Fig. 15). If you look at the palm trees you may be able to discern the wind which was accompanying the rain. The rain stopped for a time. During the night, however, it came back with a vengeance. David and I woke up due to the thrumming noise of the rain drops as well as the thunderbolts.
In the morning, the thunderstroms were momentarily headed offshore and I could take a movie of the thunderbolts in the clouds from the beach (Fig. 16). Very impressive. The good weather just lasted for the morning until around 15:30. At this time, the next thunderstorm moved across Cocoa Beach with gusts of wind of more than 50 mph (>80 km/h). The news forecast similar thunderstorms until Monday evening. The good weather with a sunny sky is predicted to start on Tuesday. Even though the weather is rainy, it is not cold. The lowest temperature we had today was 18°C. This amounts to a high humidity up until more than 90% which you need getting used to.
Despite the storms, we had to tend to the cells in the lab today. The cells looked great so that we split them from 2 T175 cell culture flasks into 8 T175 cell culture flasks in total (Fig. 17). For those not familiar with these terms: what we did was that we detached the cells from the plastic bottles in which the cells grew adhering to the bottom. Afterwards, we transferred part of the cells into new plastic bottles. This way, we will be able to tremendously multiply the number of cells. Our plan is to generate at least 16 T175 cell culture flasks with a cell density of more than 90% until April 6th. 10 we will need for the injection of the cells into the hardware we will send to the ISS. 5 will be a back-up for potential launch scrubs.
24.03.16 Appendix to 22.03.16 and what was done yesterday in the lab
In the evening of March 22nd, we had the opportunity to watch the launch of the OA-6 mission from Cape Canaveral at 23:05. We were standing at the beach and tried to take a picture (Fig. 13). Not really easy in the dark without a tripod at hand. ;) If you like to know more about this specific launch follow this link to spaceflightnow.com.
In the lab yesterday, we checked the EA.hy926 cells we recultured the day before. They looked great (Fig. 14) and we just changed the medium.
22.03.16 Cell culture successfully started
We expected the arrival of two dry ice packages with cells. One from our co-worker in L.A., the other from our co-workers in Houston. As the shipping was not due ealier than 10 am, we drove to the lab around 10 am. On our way there, we used gate 2D today. This way in, we drove directly in the direction of the Vehicle Assembly Building (Fig. 10). Always a phenomenal sight.
Upon arrival in the lab, we talked a bit with Bob about our schedule for the rest of the week. We connected with the guest wi-fi in the office and printed the time line for our mission. This time line we pinned to a board so that everyone will be able to look at it and determine where we are at. ;) Around 12:30 the cells arrived and we recultured them. We prepared the medium and resuspended the cells. They are now at 37°C inside at laboratory CO2 incubator (Fig. 11). We will check on them tomorrow.
Leaving the lab today, we saw our first alligator (Fig. 12). I am curious how many we will see. :)
21.03.16 First day at the lab at Kennedy Space Center
This morging, we drove to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC, Fig. 6) with the destination 'Badging Office'. We were informed that there we will get the badge with which we will be able to enter the restricted area of the KSC. How everything would proceed we had no idea. When we arrived at the Badging Office, we went inside, showed our passports and got temporary bagdes with our pictures taken there without any issues . They are valid until April 30th 2016. Let's hope that we will not need an extension.
The lady who printed my badge asked if we knew where we had to go. We just could tell her that we have to be at the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) and are expected by Robert Galke. She looked him up as there is no front desk in the SSPF. Unfortunately, she could not contact him by phone. She could only give us the floor (3rd) on which we should find Robert Galke and a visitor map of the KSC (Fig. 7) in which she marked the way from the Badging Office/Gate 3 to the SSPF (Fig. 8). We were a bit surprised that we could go by ourself and were not escorted as we expected. Later, during the safety briefing we were informed that the way to and from the SSPF is an exemption. For every other way we will need someone from NASA who is accompanying us.
Inside the SSPF, we went to the third floor and asked the first person crossing our way if he knew where we could find Robert Galke. He did not know Robert but he could take us to someone who knew him and we could finally track him down. After the safety and security briefing, Robert (Bob) showed us our office space on the second floor as well as all laboratories on the ground floor (one for each: us, RUAG, Kayser Italia) (Fig. 9). I think we will need some time to remember the layout of the rooms correctly. It is really confusing. Fortunately, in allmost all corridors there are touch screens on the wall displaying a floor plan. So you only have to remember the room numbers you are looking for to find your way. :)
Finally, we unpacked the plastic consumables from our metal box, the chemicals from the hand carry box and stored everything in the cupboards and fridge in the lab. Tomorrow, we expect the delivery of the endothelial cells and will be able to start the cell culture. Somehow, it still feels unreal to finally be here in Cape Canaveral and to start preparing the experiment for the launch into space. It is great.
19.03.16 David and I arrived yesterday evening in Cocoa Beach!
David and I met yesterday morning at 8:30 am at the airport Berlin Tegel to catch our flight to Frankfurt. In the hand luggage we had the box with the frozen chemicals for the cell culture. The security personnel at the gate carefully read the email from the Bundespolizeikommissar (German border police officer) with the clearance I had printed out and with me. Nevertheless, after the x-ray check I had to take the bag with the styrofoam box to a test where it was tested for explosive agents. Everything came back negative - no surprise there ;-) - so we could board the plane.
Upon our arrival in Frankfurt, we proceeded to the gate area Z from which our connecting flight to Orlando, USA, was scheduled to depart. At the passport control we asked where we could find the customs office as we had to show to the customs the customs bill for the chemicals. In no time at all we were able to find the office - it was directly atop the staircase to the gate area Z. And no other passengers were waitng. So we got the stamp on the customs bill (Fig. 2) right away. The staff was a bit astonished that we were allowed to take these volumes of liquid into the passenger cabin. We showed them the email, too.
At the gate, we could see the 747 airplane with which we flew to Orlando (Fig. 3). It is always astonishing how something this large is able to fly.
The flight lasted about 9.5 hours. For a long time the only thing we could see outside were clouds. When we got near Newfoundland, we saw brash ice offshore (Fig. 4). Truly a sight which I had not seen before.
After landing, the last hurdles had to be taken: first the passport control. We could pass by all the visitors with an ESTA or other common entry permit for the US due to our diplomatic A2 visa. Really nice. :-) During the passport control, the border protection officer asked us whether we belong to the NATO or military. Likely due to the visa. A bit astonished we just replied: "No. We are scientist." David's suitcase arrived really fast at the baggage claim. For my suitcase, we had to wait and were starting to wonder why mine took so long since David and I checked in together. Luckily, my suitcase is easy to find. So I spotted it on a different baggage claim - the one for buissiness and first class passengers. How it got there, I have no idea. But at least, we had both our stuff and could go to the customs to declare the chemical box. Our whole luggage - both suitcases, our bagpacks as well as the box with the chemicals - was X-rayed again. Meanwhile, the officer was reading carefully all the papers we had: NASA exemption letter (no payment of taxes for the import), NASA regulation print out which explained the laws for the exemption, import permit for the fetal bovine serum (FBS), a declaration of the manufacturer that the FBS is free of any disease. One of the certificates we got from the manufacturer was issued in Brazil. Because of this, the officer asked us if we were coming from Brazil. We were a bit worried. But in the end, we could leave the airport with our FBS (Fig. 5)! We actually almost left without signing the obligatory customs declaration sheet. But we stopped in time before leaving. Better not forgetting something which might lead to us beeing searched by customs.
After picking up the car at Alamo, we drove straight to our motel in Cocoa Beach and went to bed at fast as possible. We were both totally exhausted and ready for sleep.
Today, we went shopping for food and a SIM card to stay connected with our colleagues in Europe. An American SIM card is less expensive than to pay for the roaming fees. Now it is raining. So we will just eat something and will have a relaxed evening.
During the night we received an email that there already was a further launch delay. The new date is April 8th at 16:43 local time. 4 days later. Nevertheless, we will stick to our travel plans - first team leaving in two days! This delay gives us a bit more time for the cell culture. Which is good. After organizing all travel plans (accomodation, flight, rental car, customs) we were informed that we will not be able to start working in the lab at KSC directly on the day after our arrival - due to the opening hours of the badging station. Therefore, we can start our cell culture not before Tuesday next week. So the 4 days delay is good for us. :)
Meanwhile, ALTEC organized the customs clearance process with SCHENKER. I have now the export customs document with which I have to go to the German customs at the ariport in Frankfurt. This is great. Now I am waiting for a different document. NASA is providing an exemption letter for the American customs in Orlando. I really, really hope it arrives in time. Otherwise I do not know what will happen. I asked ALTEC but am still waiting for a response... Cross your fingers.
08.03.16 We have a new date!
Last week we were informed about a new launch date.
4th April at 18:16 local time
This means for the first science team to take a flight to Orlando Friday next week. The second team will arrive on March 26th. Yes, this means we will all be in the USA over Easter holidays which makes the accomodation situation not the easiest one.
ALTEC is now contacting SCHENKER to start the process for customs clearance for our second box with the cell culture chemicals. With the document SCHENKER provides I have to get a stamp at the airport. As I cannot make an appointment in advance to save time I hope everything goes smoothly. As a precaution I booked flights with much time in between. I think I will relax the first time when I arrive in the hotel after the transport part is over. ;)
In the next couple of days I will be posting more often about the current status of our trip to the USA. From Friday next week I will try to post daily news about the ongoings of the preparation of the experiment. So stay in touch.
05.02.16 And the next launch delay
I received an email late last night which informed us about a further delay. Another mission launching to the ISS is delayed which is why SpaceX 8 will be moved also. There is no official new date yet. However, the date under review is April 1st. In the next couple of days the new schedule is announced to be complete and we will be kept in the loop.
Nevertheless, our metal box arrived yesterday in the US. According to ALTEC, the NASA customs broker informed them that the box will be cleared by customs in the next couple of days. Finally!
ALTEC also sent me an updated import permit for the FCS. Now the 'U.S. port(s) of arrival' states 'as applicable'. :-) ALTEC also pointed out to me that the import permit has to be accompanied by an original and signed document from the FCS manufacturer which confirms that the FCS is 'a) free of evidence of disease and b) originated in Germany'. I contacted the manufacturer. They will sent me the confirmation.
Everytime you think now you have all you need, something new hides behind the corner. I am curious whether and what else is still hiding.
28.01.2016 Schenker was here!
Today at 10:30 a.m., someone from Schenker arrived in our lab to pick up the metal box. He was a bit surprised about the size of the box. As you can see on the figure, the box is not so small. Rather, it is quite a handful for just one person. And he was alone! Luckily Sascha was here and could help carry the box downstairs. Otherwise I would have had to help. ;-)
Now the box is on its way to KSC. I informed ALTEC about the pickup and asked to be informed about the safe arrival of our box. :-)
27.01.2016 Call from Schenker
Schenker called this morning to ask if a pickup tomorrow instead of Friday would be possible. This will give them a bit more time for packing. What has to be packed by Schenker you wonder? Well, we have paraformaldehyde in the metal box. This is classified as dangerous goods and has to be packed under strict regulations. To do this you have to have a special training which non of us has. Therefore, Schenker has to bring the metalbox to someone with this training so that the paraformaldehyde will be packed safely. To give Schenker more time to organize the packing they asked whether the metalbox may be picked up a day earlier. So they come tomorrow.
Another good news I received yesterday. NASA sent me the import permit for the FCS. On the permit are the 'U.S. port(s) of arrival' stated. Unfortunately, Orlando is not one of them. I asked if this will be a problem. NASA is checking this right now.
25.01.2016 Pickup date for our consumables
I was in contact today with first ALTEC and afterwards with Schenker. The metal box with our consumables for the lab at KSC will be picked up on Friday this week between 8:00 - 13:00 o'clock.
Concerning the launch date we have not heard anything new.
We received an email with information about a new launch date:
20 March 0433 UTC
UTC is the coordinated universal time. Converted into Cape Canveral local EST time this means a launch at 00:33 a.m. at night on March 20. In Germany this would mean a launch at 05:33 a.m.. A nice launch in the middle of the night. That's quite a sight! However, the final prepartion time for the hardware will start March 18 at 02:33 a.m. local time EST. Looks like we will get not much sleep.
Over the X-mas holidays which we all could celebrate with our families instead of being in Florida. I was looking forward to plan the pickup of our big metalbox with the consumables for the lab at Kennedy Space Center. However, after starting work last week and sending the authorization document for customs declaration to Schenker I was contacted several times by Schenker. Why? On the authorization document, customs tariff numbers have to be given. There are many, many tariff numbers in a catalog valid all over the world. Each one of them is unique and catagorizes an item into a group. This way, all customs can easily process a shipment/import. Luckily, ALTEC selected them and I just had to check if I agree with the definition of the selected numbers for the respective item in the metal box. I did not have to go through the whole catalog and try to find the numbers by myself. Although I checked, Schenker had rejected one of these numbers after checking them on their part. After some back and forth, we could find the appropriate number. Unfortunately, I was then informed Thursday afternoon that a pickup for Friday last week was no longer feasible much to my regret. I saw the time running away for a timely delivery of the metalbox.
On Friday, I was contacted by ESA and was informed that there may be a further launch delay. During the night to Saturday, I was forwarded an email from NASA in which all experimenters scheduled for SpaceX 8 were informed that there is a new scheduling of launches going on and that they hopefully will be able to inform us next week (meaning this week) about anything more specific. However, in this email it was unambiguously stated that we 'can assume SpX 8 will launch no earlier than 2 March 2016'.
With this new development, the pickup for the metal box was likewise postponed. It will take place in CW4. It has to take place 30 days after the shipment was declared at customs. Since this was the case 1 day before we got the information about the further launch delay the shipment hast to take place. In the meantime, I will prepare or better finalize the paperwork for the transport of the handcarry stuff I will take with me when I fly to USA. I was informed by Schenker that they will declare it at customs in Germay. I, however, will have to get a stamp on the document Schenker will sent me after declaration. This stamp confirms that the items left Germany. Now I have to find out how and where I get this stamp. I have to make more inquiries . First I will call the airport Frankfurt/Main.
To answer the question in the heading of today's blog entry:
countdown is still on hold
with now set new launch date available sofar.
16.12.2015 Tim Peake arrived on ISS
Yesterday at 11:30:10 GMT, Tim Peake was launched successfully with a Soyuz from Baikonur. Docking to the ISS was 6.5 hours later. He now is a resident of the ISS for almost 6 month. You can find videos and pictures of the launch on Tim's blog.
11.12.2015 LAUNCH DELAY
Late last night I received an email from NASA about a launch delay of SpaceX 8. The launch is delayed to NET Sunday, 07.02.2016. This means rescheduling all flights and hotel bookings we already made. Again!
The only good side I see: it gives me more time to get the documentation for the transport of the consumables straight. It needs much more time and more information than I was informed in the beginning.
At least one positive news I got this morning: ths USDA which is reseponsible for the import permit for our FCS into the USA granted the import. Yehaaaa!!!
04.12.2015 Link to the blog of Tim Peake
Our update from two days ago was posted today on the blog of the ESA astronaut Tim Peake by Julien.
After rescheduling the travel for the new launch date, I was in contact with ALTEC several times. ALTEC is an Italian company which is organizing the transport of all materials to KSC. We - the scientist - have two boxes which have to be transported. One is quite large and contains all kinds of consumables. The second box contains frozen liquids which have to be transported cooled and are essential for the cell culture. We plan to take this box with us as hand-carry on the flight to Orlando. Beside our boxes, ALTEC is responsible for the transport of the boxes from RUAG and KI. RUAG has several boxes (5 in total) for the hardware and KI one box as well.
So far so good. But: The materials in each of our boxes are worth more than 1000 €. This means that the boxes have to be declared at customs in Germany as well as in the US. This is something none of us ever did. Luckily, ALTEC is tasking Schenker with the paper work for the German side so we will not make any mistakes. And ALTEC will also clarify support by NASA for the American customs if necessary.
There is a second issue for the hand-carry box. Liquids in airplanes are only allowed up to a volume of 1000 mL in total with single volumes not larger than 100 mL. The liquids we will carry are 2x 500 mL, 3x 100 mL and 2x 10 μg. Therefore, I contacted the federal law enforcement at the airport Tegel in Berlin (Bundespolizeiinspektion Flughafen Berlin - Tegel Bereich - Gefahrenabwehr / Luftsicherheit) to receive a permission to bring the volumes into the passenger cabin of the plane. Today I talked with an officer and he granted the transport. The only thing I still have to do is sent him an email next week confirming/stating the following: the liquids are no dangerous goods, the material safety data sheets (MSDS) for each liquid, the flight connection of my way to Orlando. He then will inform Securitas, the security company manning the security checks at the airports in Berlin and Frankfurt, of the permit for the liquids.
The last obstacles in our control are solved!
Now everything is in the hands of SpaceX and NASA. Please keep the launch date. Yesterday, we received the information about a tentative launch time for January 14, 2016. If nothing changes, we will see a launch in the night at 1:50 A.M..
26.11.2015 LAUNCH DELAY
During a telecon with ESA yesterday, we were informed of a launch delay. SpaceX 8 will not launch on Sunday, 03.01.2016.
The new date we received was a NET Thursday, 14.01.2016.
Although, this new date is still not fixed, the whole team (us, ESA, RUAG, KI) replans the travel, the accommodation, the transport of equipment etc. to KSC at Cape Canaveral, USA, with the 14.01.2016 as the new launch date. For the first two members of the science team this will mean a flight to Orlando on December 28, 2015.
Let's hope, that this will be the only delay. Hope dies last. :)
11.11.2015 Some News
In the last couple of weeks, we had several telecons with ESA, NASA and the companies involved in the SPHEROIDS spaceflight. We are currently organizing the logistics (transport of material from Europe to the lab at the Kennedy Space Center) as well as the equipment provided by NASA for the lab. Up to now, we have no official information about any launch delays. Therefore, the flights of the team are booked. We cross our fingers it stays this way.
Yesterday, I was informed that the description of our experiment is now online on the blog of Tim Peakes. Click here to read it.
15.10.2015 Progress Update
About three weeks ago, we were informed that SpaceX 8 has a new launch date!
Next week we will have a telecon with ESA, RUAG and Kayser Italia to discuss the logistic for our trip to Cape Canaveral. We already stated during a telecon last week that the first persons of our science team will arrive on December 17th in Cape Canaveral to reculture the cell. Which means some of us will already be in Florida for X-Mas. The whole team will celebrate New Year together.
Since Monday, we are in contact with Julien Harrod, an editor from ESA, who will follow and promote ESA astronaut Tim Peakes's Principia mission. Here your find Tim Peakes Principia Blog. In this blog you will find some information about our SPHEROIDS project.