With Dragon delayed again, ISS crew reflects
Space Station Commander Dan Burbank and Flight Engineer Don Pettit spoke with CNN's John Zarrella on Friday.
January 20th, 2012
04:13 PM ET

With Dragon delayed again, ISS crew reflects

When I spoke with international space station commander Dan Burbank and flight engineer Don Pettit on Friday, they should have been talking a lot about the upcoming arrival of the first ever commercial space craft called Dragon. But the date of that arrival is now uncertain. “I suppose on a personal level it’s maybe a little bit disappointing,” Burbank told me during our interview.

The Dragon vehicle built by SpaceX was to launch in early February. That won’t happen. The unmanned craft would have rendezvoused with the space station very much like the Japanese HTV cargo vessel does. “One of the unique things about SpaceX,” says Pettit, “is it flies up like HTV and just gets close to the space station and we kind of lasso it with the robotic arm and bring it in.”

But the launch of Dragon has run into problems. CNN has learned the launch will be in late March at the earliest. SpaceX spokeswoman Kirsten Grantham says, “we need more time to check out and test the systems.” Grantham added, “Its an incredibly challenging mission.”

“Space flight is tough,” Burbank told me. “It’s really, really hard, and to think that anybody could just roll into this and very quickly field a system that’s gonna be ready to go on the first day planned, and be absolutely reliable, is a little bit unrealistic,” he said.

Space flight can be tough on the body as well as machinery. Ten astronauts have come back from Space Station missions with changes to their eyesight, which are sometimes permanent. Burbank says, “The kinds of problems that have happened in a fairly small subsection of people that have flown here before seem to isolated. Some people have it, many people don’t have any at all.”

After a couple months into flight, some astronauts start getting far-sighted. The problem only shows up in male astronauts. NASA flight doctors say it is right now their top priority. There’s little chance that a two- or three-year Mars mission could take place without resolving the issue.

The six-member crew of the station is participating in studies to help doctors and researchers on the ground figure out the problem. They have imaged the backs of their eyes and the optic nerve. They are taking high-resolution images of the retina and measuring the pressure in their eyes. All the data is sent back to doctors on the ground. “I think we came through, and our eyes look very good,” Burbank said.

During the 10-minute interview, Burbank and Pettit discussed all the space junk flying around up there. They view it as a major concern. Burbank said the number of avoidance maneuvers they have to perform is a measure of two things: the amount of debris up there and the increased technological ability to see it.

But the commander said more needs to be done. “I think it’s really, really critical that we get the capability to monitor as best we can debris in orbit.”

While Burbank and Pettit are in space, an important anniversary will take place. February 20 will mark the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s historic flight, when he became the first American to orbit the earth. “Amazing,” said Pettit, “a short flight in a capsule he couldn’t even unstrap from. You look at what we’re doing now and it’s just amazing in terms of the orbital operations with station and the number of people flying.”

A ceremony marking the anniversary is planned for the Kennedy Space Center. It’s hoped Glenn and Scott Carpenter, the last two surviving Mercury astronauts, will attend.

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Filed under: In Space
soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. w l jones

    Once deep beyond Earth gravity one feel no larger than a mic/organism in a test tube. Ask any astronaught it is a very strange feeling to be in total darkness without knowing what up or down only your mission that keep you forcus.

    January 23, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • NoGibberishPlease

      WHAT?!?!?!?!??!

      February 12, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  2. Sigmet

    I wonder why I post an actual intelligent, non-abusive, informative and pertinent comment here, and it doesn't get seen/posted/approved, when all the internet trolls get their say... Wake up CNN.

    January 21, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Sigmet

      Oh, let's try again:

      People think space is "so easy"... OK, so you can fly from L.A. to NYC in 5ish hours (depending on the tailwind) – now think if you're directly above L.A., 300 miles straight up, then directly above NYC 300 miles straight up... the difference in distance is nearly exponential...

      It's kind of like what Simon "Scotty" Pegg said in the last Star Trek movie, regarding to beaming someone onto a ship traveling at warp – "...is like trying to hit a bullet with a smaller bullet whilst wearing a blindfold, riding a horse..."

      Try doing the engineering to get a spacecraft in space in the first place, then have it meet up with another spacecraft moving at 17k mph around a piece of rock (ie, Earth) that keeps wanting to suck it back down into it's gravitational field...

      January 21, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  3. oldguy

    Remember when the USA blew up rocket after rocket before it finally managed to put its first 5 pound satellite in orbit? I think Space X and the other private companies are doing pretty well with an ambitious goal on a tight budget!

    January 21, 2012 at 1:46 am |
  4. Jeremy

    Well this is what you get when you tie things up with government bureaucracy. The contractors will drag their feet and cash those fat paychecks as long as possible. And it will take going across the desks of 30 people more interested in bribes and free dinners and a several year "cost study" to actually make them get on task.

    January 21, 2012 at 1:25 am |
    • 351Cobra

      You idiot – they have a fixed price contract!

      January 21, 2012 at 1:33 am |
      • Saiko

        First, most NASA contractors have cost plus award fee contracts, less of them have cost plus incentive fee contracts, and only a minority, mere 8% have fixed price contract.

        Second, all serious programs, like these SpaceX is participating, run in series. So they get one contract (spacex has more than one at the moment, for different things) after the previous ends, if performance is satisfactory. And statistically, the ones with the first type of contract have better scores, so the final effect is the same as Jeremy said.

        January 21, 2012 at 5:28 am |
    • jmsbois

      You really have no idea of what you're talking about.

      January 21, 2012 at 5:20 am |
  5. abtxoo

    It's not commercial when government dollars are required to keep the development effort afloat. Biggest farce going.

    January 21, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • 351Cobra

      Ypu idiot. The ENTIRE NASA budget for a year is less that the department of health and human services spends in just 2 DAYS!!! Get you facts straight – you are nothing but abg full of bigotry and emotion.

      January 21, 2012 at 1:35 am |
    • Mark

      Yeah, 'commercial' here is a misnomer. This program (COTS and the related CCDEV) are potentially revolutionary, however, in completely changing the incentive structure for launch and vehicle development. The huge difference from prior efforts is that with fixed cost, all the incentive is on the company to restrain costs. At a fixed price, profit = negotiated price – cost to company. Profit varies as cost to company. Conventional cost plus contracts (that's basically everything up to this) has fixed profit = ballooning cost to NASA (i.e. taxpayer) – whatever it costs. With no (little) impact on profit (and indeed very positive impact on revenue) there is little incentive to restrain costs within the scope of what the contractor things the congress will stomach. There's no technical reason that launch should be anywhere near as expensive as it is – but every program to date has been incentivized to optimize for performance and safety and hang the costs. COTS and CCDEV at least offer the hope of optimizing for cost and safety at the expense of performance (performance here means building things like the space shuttle main engines, which were the coolest, most complex, crazy low weight-to-thrust things ever built – great for showing-off, but not necessarily economically viable – kind of like Concord). We'll see. Oh, and also, if done right, the CCDEV developers will be able to market and sell capacity to non-NASA markets, which could significantly boost flight volumes and (maybe) help lower cost. That's what they mean by 'commercial', but it is kinda the wrong term. Not sure what else to call it. But it's DEFINITELY not business as usual.

      January 21, 2012 at 2:39 am |
    • hillman

      we are still spending money this country dosnt have trillions everyday when will the people of this country finally get it enough is enough.

      January 21, 2012 at 4:20 am |
      • Xen1313

        Seriously? I would rather cut NASA's budget, of 19 billion, out of the defense department, A single B2 bomber is 2.2 billion taxpayer dollars. How many of those are we replacing this year? Think about the all equipment we left in Iraq, cause it's cheaper to leave it and replace it with new hardware, than ship it home. Think about that. All the politicians broke their toys in the sand box and there is no way in heck, they are going to not rebuild them. Why do you think the Democrats are only nibbling at the defense budget, they want new toys too...

        January 21, 2012 at 5:56 am |
  6. Blessed Geek

    Because men tend to look out far into space, yearning to be far out there. Their excessive use of eye muscles for distance sighting coupled with the loss of gravity to help regulate muscular activity left their eye muscles having forgotten how to pull back into near view.

    Whereas, women tend to do what is at hand.

    January 21, 2012 at 12:49 am |
  7. Blessed Geek

    I think "rendezvoused" is a horrible butchering of the French word.
    How do you even pronounce it? ron-day-voosed?

    The better way to imbue it with a past tense is "had rendezvous".
    "Should have had a rendezvous",
    rather than,
    "should have rendezvoused."

    Sounds rather vousie doosie.

    January 21, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Okay

      Random...

      January 21, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • VQ

      Ron-day-vood.

      January 21, 2012 at 2:14 am |
    • Top Secret

      Chocolate Mousse, rendezvous with Latrine and bivouac with Croissant...

      January 21, 2012 at 6:03 am |
  8. MadMarv

    Sad to think that 50 years after John Glenn's flight, we are still stuck in low Earth orbit.

    January 20, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • IreneN

      Excellent point, but there is a reason. Going back to "space race" between individual countries is a huge and totally wasted step back. There is no serious technological "achievement" in it whatsoever. Space exploration on a scale of farther outposts and space stations and bases should be an international effort. No corporation, and no single country, at least a western economy responsible and accountable for the taxpayers money, can go any further without breaking its back. Serious breakthroughs in this area are now the task for the entire mankind, otherwise we should stop pretending that that our "petty differences" ("The Independence Day") are not our top priority. Shooting another can to the low-Earth orbit does not sound like much anymore, even if it's a "commercial" endeavor (supported by serious government grants, in case somebody didn't know).

      January 21, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  9. SilentBoy741

    It's not a big deal, just a mathematical error; they just discovered that they'll need to pack another 900 pounds of fireworks underneath it before they set it off. That many trips to Tijuana takes time.

    January 20, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
  10. hdjones

    It's not like this is the first delay. Space X originally scheduled this Dragon flight for last June 6, then delayed it to October 8, then November 30, then December 19, then January 7, and now they say late March. Don't hold your breath. Space X bit off more than they can chew. Just imagine how long the delays will be in a few years when the private companies are trying to throw together a human launch system.

    January 20, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  11. Meki60

    and Obama's concern is only muslim outreach

    January 20, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • Bob0x111

      We get it. You hate Obama. Bravo. I don't like him either, but every time I think about staying home and not voting next November, I am reminded about you irritating trolls with your incessant whining. I will never vote a Republican until your hateful and annoying generation is either dead or finally irrelevant.

      January 20, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Mercury32

      Troll, troll, troll. Not even a good troll or a smart troll. Just an apparently racist or xenophobic troll. The worst kind.

      January 20, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • RevP

      And your comment relates to this article how? Trying to figure it out!

      January 21, 2012 at 12:13 am |
      • NASAMAN

        If you don't know how it relates then you haven't been keeping up. Obama has wasted millions of dollars having NASA reach out to muslim countries. In June 2010 Charles Bolden joined the Obama apology team traveling to Muslim countries and trying to make them feel good about their contributions to science, math, and engineering. Unfortunately he neglected to mention that those talents were primarily used to develop an alternative form of travel into the heavens. It's called the martyrdom stairway to heaven (and 72 virgins) the energy source is explosive vests/suicide bombers. Don't think NASA needs to waste any more money, it does enough of that already.

        January 21, 2012 at 12:49 am |
  12. Dr.D'Leyes

    The answer might be found by doing a cycloplegic refraction on all astronauts before sending them into space. They may be hyperopic all along but able to compensate for it in their youth, not in later years just like everyone else who is hyperopic. Check their medical records for previous cycloplegic refractions, NASA, it is possible many never had that done.

    Cheers

    January 20, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Obamabus

      I was thinking the same thing. Well, that or heavy drinking.

      January 20, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • SilentBoy741

      The answer is to send up near-sighted astronauts. That way when they come back, their vision should be just about right.

      January 20, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  13. Ted Ward

    There's a heck of a lot of stuff for SpaceX and Dragon to accomplish on this next mission and much of it is brand new for the SpaceX system, so it's shouldn't be at all surprising that there is a needed delay. If the history of spaceflight has taught us anything, it's don't rush. Launch when ready only. Patience and thoroughness pay big dividends, and rushing just because there is an artificial date is just plain pointless and needlessly risky.

    January 20, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • C

      So very true. Challenger is hard proof of this statement.

      January 21, 2012 at 2:56 am |
  14. Chartreuxe

    Is it DRagon or Dagon?

    January 20, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Ilya

      It's Dragon. With "r"

      January 20, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • 351Cobra

      Another example of CNN's fine writing.

      January 21, 2012 at 1:39 am |
    • Greg

      If the next one is called "Mother Hydra", then we'll know...

      January 21, 2012 at 3:45 am |
  15. Jason

    If men go far-sighted then the solution is obviously to only send women to Mars.

    January 20, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Chartreuxe

      Works for me. I'm ready.

      January 20, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • clearfog

      Mars Needs Women

      January 20, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
      • b4bigbang

        LOLOL, i love it!

        January 20, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
      • scott

        I thought women were frim Venus?....and men were from Mars...or is it the other way around?

        January 21, 2012 at 3:15 am |
    • Mark C

      Their periods will attract space-bears.

      January 20, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  16. smc

    I'm nearsighted. Send me up there for my cure!

    January 20, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • Chartreuxe

      Laser surgery. I had it last year and I see like a hawk, 20/20 and 20/15.

      January 20, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
      • SilentBoy741

        But don't you get tired of constantly diving after field mice?

        January 20, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
  17. ESWAT

    like an early frost before the grapes are ripened

    January 20, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
  18. SUMMER WINE

    complications always arrive at the door of achievement

    January 20, 2012 at 4:38 pm |

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