NASA delays the next cargo run to the International Space Station (ISS) for about two weeks after black mold was discovered in two fabric bags that are used for packing food, clothing and supplies. The space agency launched an investigation to determine the source of the contamination.
The unmanned Orbital ATK Cygnus craft is scheduled to carry the supplies to the ISS on March 10 via the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Due to the delay, it is expected to launch by March 22 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The preparation for the launch was about halfway done when inspectors discovered the mold during routine tests. This was supposed to be fifth resupply mission to the ISS following the last launch in December 2015.
"Micro-organisms are everywhere and this type of micro-organism is not uncommon," Dan Huot, a spokesman at NASA's Johnson Space Center, said.
"NASA inspects, samples and disinfects cargo bags to ensure a safe environment for the crew members," he added.
NASA plans to disinfect all cargo bags even though the mold was found only in two bags. After disinfecting all bags, these will be repacked which will need more time before launch. NASA assured that the molds will not cause any harm or danger to the crew of the ISS if these were shipped. The space agency, however, decided to clean the bags as abundance of precaution.
Inspections in the past determined that the pressurized module was uncontaminated and there were no reports of molds in the cargo bags. Thales Alenia Space manufactured the Cygnus pressurized module and shipped it across the Atlantic Ocean from its base in Italy.
NASA says that the space agency is still looking into details if the two-week delayed launch will affect the next cargo run planned by SpaceX. This spacecraft hasn't supplied cargo to the ISS since April 2015 when its last re-supply mission failed in June 2015 due to an accident.
Molds are fungi that can be found both indoors and outdoors. Usually, they grow in warm, damp and humid conditions. When molds get in contact with people who are sensitive to them, they cause eye irritation, wheezing, skin irritation and nasal stuffiness.