NASA and SpaceX hosted a teleconference today, Thursday, March 28, detailing the return of the company’s Dragon spacecraft from a resupply flight to the International Space Station (Dragon safely splashed down Tuesday, March 26).
The capsule returned scientific research and other items in the 2 tons of “down mass” that was rturned to Earth. It is hoped that the experiments that returned to Earth can develop new ways to produce food on long-duration missions in space. Developing better quality solar cells, electronics, and detergents were among some of the other areas of study that were returned on the Commercial Resupply 2 (CRS-2), or SpaceX-2 (SpX-2), mission which concluded this week. Dragon also returned a large amount of medical research conducted on the station.
The teleconference’s participants included NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, SpaceX Chief Designer and CEO Elon Musk, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, and International Space Station Program Scientist Julie Robinson.
Charles Bolden: “Thanks to all of you for joining us on today’s teleconference, as we welcome back and congratulate the SpaceX team on the recovery of Dragon. I’m very excited to be joined here today by Elon Musk and Gwynne Shotwell, the CEO and president of SpaceX, respectively, as well as our International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson. Each are going to talk to you a little bit more about aspects of the mission from their perspective, but let me say a couple of words first.
“From our perspective here at NASA, we’re very pleased at how the NASA and SpaceX teams worked together to ensure Dragon successfully rendezvoused with and was berthed to the International Space Station. This past Tuesday, Dragon returned with a cargo bay full of critical science experiments and hardware. The reason that I’m here with you today is to remind all of you of the importance of our commercial cargo program and how it’s critical to our human spaceflight program at NASA. I also want to remind you that we have a second commercial cargo partner, Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., who is scheduled for the first test flight of their Antares launch vehicle with a mass simulator of their Cygnus cargo module next month. Our ability to deliver and return supplies and scientific experiments like those that Julie Robinson is going to talk about later … is critical to the work that the Expedition 35 and 36 is doing on the International Space Station, and even more so as NASA charts a course to send humans to new destinations. Later this afternoon, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, Soyuz and Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov, and Aleksandr Misurkin will launch to space and dock with the ISS within an unprecedented six hours.”
Gwynne Shotwell: “Thanks so much, I’m obviously very pleased to be here this morning and to be able to report that the most recent Dragon mission was an enormous success for the SpaceX and NASA partnership. We’ve now completed three successful mission of launching, berthing, transferring cargo, and returning back to Earth in 10 months. I’m pretty sure that’s a (inaudible) record, and I’m obviously very proud of that. I want to do just a quick summary of the first elements of the CRS-2 mission. This was the first robotic operation in the Dragon trunk, and we did carry up grapple bars for NASA to facilitate ongoing improvements and upgrades. This was the first time that SpaceX leveraged the re-rendezvous planning, which was critical to our getting to station effectively this time. This was also the longest mission duration to date, we were berthed to the ISS for 23 days, CRS-1, or “SpaceX-1,” was berthed for 18 days by comparison. We had a number of technology demonstrations on the vehicle, and we can go through that a bit later; we did bring Dragon back to port in Longbeach yesterday at about 7 p.m., and all cargo remained powered at all times, and NASA has received the critical, time-sensitive cargo as of last night. So this mission was just an enormous success. To highlight the amount of cargo we carried up: 1,493 lbs of pressurized cargo and packaging, and 822 lbs of unpressurized cargo—actually, apologize, 1,268 lbs of pressurized cargo and 822 lbs of unpressurized cargo. In the return we brought back 3,256 lbs of cargo, which was 200 lbs more than we had originally planned for this mission. So I’m pleased that the SpaceX and NASA team executed this mission as a resounding of a success as it was.”
Elon Musk: “Thanks, I think um, I will just talk a little bit about the anomaly that we experienced; we did have an issue with the Dragon spacecraft briefly on the way up to the space station. The rocket performed very well—almost flawlessly as far as I could tell. We did have a flight issue with the propellant check valve, which we were able to fix within four or five hours, and then get to the space station a day later. There were no further issues after that. (Inaudible). We will address that in future vehicles. So we do not expect to see that issue again. I think I will just leave it at that.”
Julie Robinson: “Good day, everybody. The SpaceX flights are so important to our use of the International Space Station. We have a large portfolio, over 200 investigations, that are active at the ISS at any one given time. Those have been selected for a variety of reasons. From enabling scientific discoveries, to directly finding benefits of their research back here on Earth, to enabling future exploration missions beyond Earth orbit and some of the cargo, I wanted to highlight just a few examples of some of the cargo coming back to help you to understand how important this work is for the ongoing research on the space station and to improve life back here on Earth.
“In the area of human research, we do studies to see how astronauts respond to the Earth environment, but then to also leverage those studies and improve health on Earth. There are about 300 tubes of blood and other biological samples coming home, and this time they’re primarily supporting our studies of the interactions between the nutrition and bone loss. That’s an area where we’ve made some pretty significant advances in how we prepare crews and help them be healthy on the space station. Those advances are really causing people to rethink a little bit the way that we treat osteoporosis back here on Earth as well.
“In physical sciences we have one experiment I want to call out called the ‘Coarsening Solid Liquid Mixture Experiment.’ This is the first time we’ve done something really time-sensitive with SpaceX where we actually launched the samples on this flight, took them over to the ISS, did a bunch of research on them, and finished that research by the skin of our teeth and put them back on Dragon, which then brought the samples home. This experiment is looking at alloy mixtures of lead and tin, so these are very soft alloys; that’s why we had to bring them home quickly. The structure of those alloys, as we make them in orbit, has a tree-like structure which helps us control its strength and all of its physical properties. So these are very important studies that lead into American manufacturing technology.
“In the life sciences we had a series of experiments that are focused on plant development—in particular how plants understand which way to grow and what the molecular signals are of that. That’s really important work for understanding plant biology and improving crop … Then, of course, there are also education, commercial activities and a variety of other research uses that are supported by this flight. So we are very excited to have all those samples safe on the ground and already being distributed to the researchers that are going to be using them, and then we’re excited to have the researchers roll up their sleeves and get the rest of the lab work done. Thanks.”
Stay tuned to AmericaSpace for a review of Elon Musk’s comments regarding his company’s plans for future missions that include the possible recovery of the Falcon 9’s first stage.