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Rummaging in the ATV’s cargo hold

A look at just some of the many and varied items travelling to the ISS

ATV-3 cargo packagingThe load of dry cargo – 2.2 tonnes – carried by the ATV-3 ‘Edorado Amaldi’ up to the International Space Station (ISS) is more than either of the two preceding ATV missions. The first ATV, ‘Jules Verne’ freighted 1,150 kg of dry cargo in 2008, and ATV-2 ‘Johannes Kepler’ followed in 2011 with 1,605 kg of dry cargo. ATV-3’s cargo load takes up the full complement of eight Integrated Light Racks (ILRs) instead of the six used by the previous ATVs.

Happy meal on the ISSThe cargo contains literally everything that the on-board crew of the ISS need for living and working in space – food, clothing, toiletries, medical supplies, spare parts, tools and experiments. Leafing through the ‘cargo manifest’, we find many things that speak volumes about life in orbit, such as ‘protective cap assembly’, ‘microbial analysis packet’, ‘urine tube kit’, or more prosaically ‘biocide wipes’ or ‘shirt, short sleeve’, but there are other articles that, to the untrained, non-expert eye, are frankly puzzling: what do the astronauts do exactly with a ‘toe cap assembly’ or a ‘tulip’?

Let’s have a peek at a few of these carefully stocked items – clearly only a tiny proportion of the wide and varied range of articles making the journey.

Serious science

The main purpose of the ISS’ crew is to further scientific research. In the cargo of the ‘Edoardo Amaldi’ ATV we find a whole series of new experiments to the ISS.

The ENERGY experiment, for instance, is to investigate the how the human body manages energy processes under conditions of weightlessness, and will provide important insights which can be applied to future long-term missions in zero-gravity.

Altea Shield research © ESAFor the on-going Altea Shield research, which is seeking to obtain a better understanding of the light flash phenomenon (for many years astronauts have been reporting seeing flashes of light on their retinas) and, more generally, the interaction between cosmic rays and brain function, special tiles are being uploaded to the ISS. These tiles will help to test different shielding materials for their effectiveness against radiation.


The Biolab facilityIn addition, the Biolab facility (to support biological experiments on micro-organisms, cells, tissue cultures, small plants and small invertebrates) in the Columbus research laboratory will be equipped with a module which will make it possible to deliver precisely defined supplies of clean air to the experiments performed in the laboratory.


Airbus Defence and Space is responsible for the management and maintenance of all these experiments.


A PIG in a blanket?

Not travelling to the ISS: the PIG in a blanket is a scientific experimentNo, this isn’t a tenderly protected porcine pet to enliven the days of the crew members, nor is it that typical British culinary delicacy of small sausages wrapped in bacon rashers. It is another scientific component, used to supply calibration gas for the Human Research Facility VO2max experiment. The ‘pig’ in question stands for Pressurised Inhalation Gases. The PIG gas cylinder is connected via fittings to provide gas (80% nitrogen, 15% oxygen and 5% carbon dioxide) for this investigation on the ISS. The 5 kg, 11.6 x 17.0 x 56.1 cm structure contains 190 litres of gas at standard temperature and pressure.


Here is an extract from a food bag loaded into ATV-3:

Mushroom soup  


 Cauliflower cheese

Macaroni cheese

Mixed vegetables

Pilaf rice

Potatoes au gratin

Scrambled eggs

Vegetable quiche

Fresh food such as these fruits are rare on the ISS  



Butter cookies

Butterscotch pudding

Candy coated almonds

Chocolate cake

Lemon curd cake



   Fruit Meat
   Fruit salad Meatloaf

Sausage patty

Pork chop

Sweet ’n’ sour chicken

  Green tea

Quite mouth-watering!

In the early days of space travel, eating was a very different experience for astronauts than it is today. Back then, they had to use straws to suck dehydrated, paste-like food out of tubes. But nowadays, eating food in space (apart from certain logistical constraints posed by a zero-gravity environment) is pretty much the same as it is down on Earth. Some foodstuffs can be eaten in their natural form, such as brownies and fruit. Other comestibles, such as pasta, still require water to be added. The ISS is equipped with an oven to heat foods to the proper temperature, but as there are no refrigerators in space, food must be stored and prepared properly to avoid spoilage.

Anything with a high crumble factor – such as crisps and some biscuits – that might stray into the air, causing problems with computers and the ventilation, are excluded.

The main problem, recounted by those who have experienced the delights of dining in space, is that, without gravity, food aromas waft away before they make it to the nose. And without being able to smell, the faculty of taste is impaired as well. Condiments are available to spice up food as much as possible, but this is not salt and pepper as we know them: they have to be in liquid form so that the tiny particles don’t just float about!

Socks and other undies in space

Space socksAccording to the cargo manifest, the Japanese space agency JAXA is on this goods delivery to the ISS supplying its astronauts with nearly three times as many packs of socks as NASA is sending for their US counterparts. Since there is not an overwhelming preponderance of Japanese lodgers in the space station, it is legitimate to wonder whether this is because Japanese astronauts get through items of clothing worn next to the skin at a faster rate than their American colleagues … If indeed so, one Japanese astronaut’s particular research must have tested his mettle to the limit – during his ISS sojourn in 2009, Koichi Wakata fearlessly used his own body as an experiment to trial the odour-controlling properties of some high-tech underpants, made from material treated with anti-bacterial and deodorising agents, by wearing them for a solid month at a stretch … Apparently, none of his on-board fellows complained, so the investigation was deemed a success. The underpants were also flame-resistant (!), anti-static and ‘stylishly attractive’.

Items of clothes are typically worn only for a few days in space and then discarded as rubbish, as there is no washing machine on the ISS.

Sock sidenote: some ‘space socks’ are effectively foot mittens, having a separate ‘pouch’ for the big toe. This gives the astronauts greater possibilities to grip things using their feet, a bit like an extra hand. Zero-gravity really is another world!

Swiss army knife

The multi-functional Swiss army knife is also travelling to the ISSIt is heart warming to note among the items ferried up by the ATV-3 to the ISS the presence of that trusty companion of all intrepid adventurers, the multi-functional Swiss army knife. The pioneering spirit, it would seem, is alive and well and blazing a trail into space.