Cosmic Kiss – on schedule so far
German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer and his NASA colleagues Kayla Barron, Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn have been living and working on the International Space Station ISS since 12 November 2021. During his first three weeks, the Saarland native has already experienced a lot. "After a somewhat bumpy start with adverse circumstances such as multiple launch delays and safety precautions resulting from the close approach of debris to the ISS, the 'Cosmic Kiss' mission is fortunately right on schedule. Maurer has worked at a fast pace and made up for lost time. This is extremely important because the astronauts' working time, referred to as 'crew time', is a particularly valuable resource on the ISS. It is needed for research, to encourage young scientists and conduct maintenance work. Maurer has already accomplished all this in the first three weeks," emphasises Volker Schmid, 'Cosmic Kiss' Mission Manager for the German Space Agency at DLR.
Cosmic Kiss – well underway in the 'science marathon'
During his 'Cosmic Kiss' mission, Maurer is expected to complete a 'science marathon' of approximately 100 international experiments – 36 of them from Germany. He has already worked on eight German experiments during his first three weeks. For example, he tested a new miniaturised thermal sensor as part of the Thermo-Mini experiment to study changes in body temperature and circadian rhythms during long-term stays in space. Scientists can thus better understand 'space fever', a potential threat to the health of astronauts – especially during exercise and extravehicular activities. Among other things, the MetabolicSpace experiment will use respiratory gas analyses to monitor Maurer's performance and further test the technology. The portable system does not restrict his mobility, which allows him to train freely and unobstructed. The astronaut with a doctorate in materials science has already successfully completed his first two runs on the ISS.
Investigations into the condition of muscles and bones are an important component of research into physical fitness. In the Myotones experiment, Maurer and Thomas Marshburn non-invasively measured and evaluated the tone, elasticity and stiffness of their skeletal muscles with the help of a small hand-held device. The results contribute to the development of countermeasures to address muscle and bone atrophy. With a lens normally used for routine clinical diagnostics and a computer tablet, Maurer took images of his retina as part of the Retinal Diagnostics experiment to detect retinal changes and movements and investigate what is known as Spaceflight Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS).
In addition, the German ESA astronaut has installed all the sensors for the DOSIS 3D Mini experiment in the European Columbus module as well as in the connecting modules Node 1 and Node 3, and in the Cupola observation module. The small measuring devices will be used to analyse radiation exposure inside the ISS. For the Touching Surfaces experiment, Maurer examined and tested new types of surfaces for their antimicrobial effectiveness under space conditions. Long-term stays of astronauts in a space station lead to the development of microflora from the microorganisms carried on board, which can impact the health of the crew.
Modern customised materials – for example for new and lighter versions of complex machine parts, such as aircraft turbine blades and engine casings – are being developed in a very special furnace in space. For this research, Maurer has already carried out 19 melting cycles and two calibration cycles in the Electromagnetic Levitator (EML). Last but not least, Maurer has begun preparations for the Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS) project. Starting on 6 December 2021, he will test a new suit that could help astronauts train more effectively in the future. Schmid summarises the mission's research progress: "Matthias Maurer has set an intense pace overall regarding the experiments and has clearly covered quite a distance on his science marathon despite the additional obstacles. The whole team work together very well, and everything is right on schedule. We are looking forward to the coming months of the mission."
Cosmic Kiss – time for the scientists of the future
A special kind of exchange was supposed to take place on 2 December 2021. Maurer was originally scheduled to make radio contact with the Wolfgang Kubelka Realschule (WKR) in Schondorf and the Berufliche Schule Direktorat 1 in Nuremberg and answer up to 20 questions from students with a thirst for knowledge. However, a change in the schedule meant that this ARISS call had to be postponed. Instead, on 10 December 2021, the DLR_School_Lab in Braunschweig – one from a total of 15 DLR school labs – will be the first to participate in an ARISS call. "We are really looking forward to this exchange. This is the third time that I have done this, and it is always great to experience the enthusiasm of the pupils when they get to ask the astronaut their question over the radio link," says Frank Fischer, Head of the DLR_School_Lab in Braunschweig.
Maurer has also already completed his first two in-flight calls. During his first call on 19 November 2021, he spoke live to the representatives at the ESA 'Intermediate Ministerial Meeting' (IMM21) – a small ESA Ministerial Council conference – in Porto. During his second call, he answered questions from students and teachers at the Bochum Planetarium. The event was organised by the European Space Education Resource Office (ESERO), which is based at the Ruhr University Bochum, and was broadcast via livestream to all interested schools and planetariums in Germany.
Cosmic Kiss – an extravehicular activity and a new docking module
The first Extravehicular Activity (EVA) during the Cosmic Kiss mission was scheduled to take place on 30 November 2021. US astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron were set to leave the ISS for six and a half hours to replace a defective radio antenna. Due to a safety alert caused by approaching space debris, the activity had to be cancelled and rescheduled for 2 December 2021. The crew worked very quickly and efficiently. Halfway through the spacewalk, the astronauts were already more than an hour ahead of schedule. During this activity, Maurer provided support from inside the ISS for his two fellow crewmembers, using the Canadarm2 robotic arm.
In addition, a new Russian module has been attached to the ISS. "The 'Prichal' node autonomously docked with the Space Station on 26 November 2021 having been delivered by a Progress transporter. Together with the 'Nauka' module, which is also new, 'Prichal' forms another docking node and provides five new docking ports. Extravehicular activities are also possible from the new node. This means the ISS has become a bit more flexible again," explains Schmid.
Cosmic Kiss – what now?
On 6 and 7 December 2021, CIMON, the globally unique smart astronaut assistance system developed in Germany, is due to be unpacked and tested again after a long break. This is not a scientific operation yet, but a functional test. The free-flying robot had previously worked with Luca Parmitano at the beginning of February 2020. CIMON will receive an important software update during the mission before it works with Matthias Maurer.