NASA administrator warns of tough times ahead

Posted by Emma Woollacott

As NASA's SpaceX Dragon spacecraft docks with the ISS, its head, Charles Bolden, has warned that recent political events could impact the agency's mission.

He says that NASA's plans to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s could be jeopardized with the sequestration  the President was force by law to sign on Friday evening.

"The sequester could further delay the restarting of human space launches from US soil, push back our next generation space vehicles, hold up development of new space technologies, and jeopardize our space-based, Earth observing capabilities," he says.

"In spite of this threat to our progress, however, we must remember that all of our investments in space are creating good jobs here on Earth and helping to inspire young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math."

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was grabbed by the station's robotic arm at 8:56 am EST yesterday and installed onto the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module.

It had lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:10 am on Friday. However, shortly after spacecraft separation from the rocket's second stage, the Dragon lost three of its four thruster pods.

For the next four hours, SpaceX engineers worked to clear the blocked valves and get the pods back online. Ninety minutes after launch, Dragon's solar arrays were deployed, and, by 3 pm, all four thruster pods were online and attitude control was regained.

"Launching rockets is difficult, and while the team faced some technical challenges after Dragon separation from the launch vehicle, they called upon their thorough knowledge of their systems to successfully troubleshoot and fully recover all vehicle capabilities," says Bolden. "Dragon is now once again safely berthed to the station."

As a result of the difficulties, Dragon was a day late in docking with the station, although this isn't expected to have any impact on the various scientific experiments being delivered.

The flight is the second of at least 12 SpaceX cargo resupply missions to the space station through 2016. The ship is carrying about 1,268 pounds of supplies for various experiments, and will return with about 2,668 pounds of science samples from human research, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations and education activities.

On board the capsule are various new experiments, including studies of how cells and plants grow in microgravity. One experiment will examine mixtures made of lead and tin that contain a small amount of tin branch-like structures called dendrites, with the aim of producing higher-quality products from the casting of molten metals.

"The newly arrived scientific experiments delivered by Dragon carry the promise of discoveries that benefit Earth and dramatically increase our understanding of how humans adapt to space," says William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington.

"Spaceflight will never be risk-free, but it's a critical achievement that we once again have a US capability to transport science to and from the International Space Station."