NASA and its commercial partners still plan to send astronauts into space by 2017–unless, that is, the government sequester throws up a roadblock. The sequester is a set of automatic spending cuts to government programs slated to last until 2021.
“We’re still marching along on our 2017 initial flight for a crewed vehicle,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Thursday in a teleconference held to discuss the recent SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station.
“So far, we don’t see any significant impact with the rest of this fiscal year, but if we can’t get out of this sequester condition, it could slow down our progress on a commercial crew… We already are talking to our partners about delays in milestones if we don’t get the funding that we want,” Bolden said.
NASA’s collaborative partnerships with commercial companies, like Space X, are increasingly important to the success of the space agency’s future missions. The sequestration did not have an impact the Space X supply mission to the International Space Station, which concluded Thursday with a successful splashdown of its Dragon space capsule into the Pacific Ocean. This was the second mission contracted by NASA to ferry cargo and scientific support equipment to and from the orbiting space station.
The Dragon carried approximately 1,200 pounds of supplies and scientific instruments to the International Space Station in early March. The spacecraft returned to Earth after spending 23 days docked with the space station.
Although Bolden said he does not anticipate the sequester to cause problems for NASA this year, that could change if the funding cuts last beyond that time. “It could have downstream impact on everything we do,” he said.
NASA and Space X, a private company based in Hawthorne, Calif., expect to launch a third resupply mission later this year. During the teleconference, Elon Musk, the founder of Space X, said he was working with NASA to unveil a spacecraft designed to land on solid ground.
“We started off landing in water because it was the easiest thing to do, and we really didn’t know what we were doing at the beginning. We didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. Now we want to push the envelope and take the tech to where it hasn’t been before, ” Musk said.
Bolden emphasized the importance of NASA’s commercial cargo program, noting that a Virginia-based company, Orbital Sciences, is in the process of building and testing a new rocket and cargo spacecraft for resupply missions to the International Space Station. Orbital Sciences plans to launch an initial test flight in mid-April. They have slated a demonstration mission to take place this summer and its first official resupply mission this fall.