NASA says operations aboard the International Space Station should not be affected if the SpaceX CRS-2 cargo delivery mission currently slated for January slips as a result of the ongoing investigation into the first-stage engine loss that occurred on the Oct. 7 CRS-1 mission.

The supply cache delivered to the station in early to mid-2011 by the now-retired space shuttle placed the six-person orbiting science lab on a firm footing well into 2013, according to Mike Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager.

“The launch date itself, in January, is not really critical to the program from a supply standpoint,” Suffredini told an Oct. 26 news briefing. “So we have some flexibility.”

The CRS-1 Dragon capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 250 mi. west of Baja, Calif., on Oct.  28 at 3:22 p.m. EDT, providing a U.S. commercial cargo supply option to help replace the capability lost with the July 2011 shuttle retirement.

Dragon and its nearly 1,700-lb. return cargo headed for port near Los Angeles aboard a SpaceX recovery vessel. After offloading, the reusable capsule and much of the return cargo will be transported to SpaceX facilities in McGregor, Texas, for processing.

About 500 frozen medical specimens, collected since the departure of the final shuttle mission, were headed for NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for distribution to researchers. The blood and urine specimens should provide a record of metabolic changes that astronauts undergo during long periods of weightlessness.

The CRS-1 mission was the first carried out by the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company under a $1.6 billion, 12-mission NASA Commercial Resupply Services contract awarded in December 2008.

The CRS-2 Falcon 9 first stage, also in McGregor, will remain at the Central Texas test site until the investigation into the Merlin engine anomaly is resolved.

“We have agreed together to leave the stage in McGregor for a little while, while the team tries to get to the root cause of the anomaly,” Suffredini says. “My understanding is we probably have another week or so before we start to push the launch date.”

According to SpaceX, one of nine first stage engines was lost about 79 sec. after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, as the Falcon 9 was passing through the region of maximum dynamic pressure. The loss did not affect the NASA cargo mission, but led to the loss of a secondary payload, a commercial Orbcomm prototype communications satellite.

“Analysis to date supports initial findings: the engine experienced a rapid loss of pressure and Falcon 9’s flight computer immediately commanded shutdown, as it is designed to do in such cases,” according to a SpaceX statement that followed the splashdown. “The team will continue to meticulously analyze all data in an effort to determine root cause and will apply those findings to future flights.”