The SpaceX spacecraft Crew Dragon splashdown was a success and brought back NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken home. The mission marked a safe end to its two-month space mission. The United States has created history and has again became the world leaders of human spaceflight.
The spacecraft fired up the engine and safely came back to the earth. Before that, parachutes were deployed and the engine was slowed down for the target landing at Florida coast. The mission of going to the International Space Station (ISS) marked the first-ever crewed spaceflight to launch from the United States since the 2011 Space Shuttle program came to an end. SpaceX also created history by commercially developing a spacecraft to carry humans into the orbit.
Behnken and Hurley address the public
The mission control team sent out a humorous welcome for the astronauts by stating, “Thank you for flying SpaceX” – just like we get to hear from cabin crew members after flying. Behnken and Hurley made their appearance to the public after they were shuttled by a helicopter and then an airplane to reach Houston. The astronauts finally met their family after so long.
The astronauts addressed the public in a media event that streamed live on NASA TV. Hurley told the audience that they were not going to stand right now. He said that referring to people who have done this attempt before, referring to the most adventurous trip to space and back home. He said that it isn’t pleasant to keep standing for a few hours once you get back.
Behnken thanked the leaders of the Commercial Crew Program by NASA, including Kathy Lueders. Kathy was the program head for a long time in NASA, and was recently promoted as Head of Human Spaceflight. He then thanked Elon Musk for making this possible through SpaceX. In the meantime, Musk flew down to Texas to meet the astronauts after watching them return back to the earth after successfully completing the SpaceX mission. The mission was being controlled in Hawthorne, California.
Elon Musk was emotional and later stated that the mission was a result of an incredible amount of work that people put together at NASA and SpaceX. He said it took 18 years to finally fly by referring to the years of operation by SpaceX to make this possible. All through the years, SpaceX has made dozens of satellites that are orbiting the earth. However, this time was special as it included humans to go into space.
How SpaceX beat Boeing for NASA
As the NASA astronauts safely came back home in the SpaceX capsule, it reflected the good work of a decade-long mission. The occasionally contentious coordination between the space agency and SpaceX led to credible results.
NASA had asked Boeing and SpaceX way back in 2014 to build a spacecraft that was capable to carry astronauts to the ISS. The companies were given fixed-prices with contracts worth $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion respectively. However, both spacecrafts were long overdue from the estimated time. Finally, SpaceX went ahead of Boeing and launched the Crew Dragon.
How did the Crew Dragon Splashdown?
Crew Dragon aka Dragon Endeavour was supposed to fly in May, and astronauts Hurley and Behnken were preparing to board the spacecraft. The astronauts stayed two months in the space station before coming back home on Saturday.
The return of the Dragon was more dramatic as the weather conditions weren’t okay due to Isaias storm. However, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico were calm enough for bring back the astronauts with a splashdown near Pensacola.
The potential danger that was successfully dodged
There was a herd of unidentified boats that were found around the spacecraft right after the Crew Dragon splashdown. However, they were uninvited guests. Jim Bridenstine, the NASA Administrator reported on the same during the press conference.
As per instructions, the Coast Guard was asked to keep an extensive clear for the Crew Dragon splashdown. However, there were some boats that did reach close to the capsule. He said that NASA should have been more careful and will need more traffic to control such missions in the future.
According to a statement given by a spokesperson of Coast Guard’s Eighth Coast Guard District, stated that they were coordinating with SpaceX and NASA in order to recover the astronauts. They also had to keep in mind about the boating public who were involved in the operation. However, there were boats coming in the way of the recovery operation before the capsule started emitting nitrogen tetroxide (NTO).
NTO is a toxic propellant needed for the spacecraft’s engines. NASA officials reported that the fumes weren’t potent enough to harm humans around. However, it sparked concerns as to why boats came to close proximity during a crucial recovery effort.
According to the Coast Guard, the area when the capsule splashed-down was out of their legal patrol authority. They said that had limited assets and no formal authority for establishing the zones that could stop boaters from entering a certain area. Moreover, many boaters rejected the requests of the crew and entered the encroached area. They put themselves and the astronauts in danger.
Celebrating the success of safe return
Irrespective of all the odds, both SpaceX and NASA is celebrating the historic return of the astronauts. Even though there was a risk, the rescue mission was successful. Moreover, their mission was also considered a test flight, and that makes their safe return a huge success. Now, NASA can certify that the Crew Dragon is a human spacecraft.
It is now officially possible that the Crew Dragon and other spacecrafts from SpaceX will be able to make frequent trips to the ISS. It will allow NASA to take control over the US operations in their giant orbiting laboratory years after depending on Russian spacecraft for their crew.
New missions lined up for NASA and SpaceX
There is already a new mission lined up for the Crew Dragon. It has been named Crew-1 and will carry four astronauts to the ISS. Astronauts from NASA for the next mission include Michael Hopkin, Victor Glover, Soichi Noguchi, and Shannon Walker.
SpaceX now plans to refurbish the returned spacecraft that will be ready to fly again in 2021. The trip will have Behnken’s wife, Megan McArthur along with another astronaut. It will also have Shane Kimbrough from NASA and Akihiko Hoshide from JAXA space agency, Japan, along with Thomas Pesquet from European Space Agency.
The success of SpaceX is not only huge for Elon Musk but also for NASA and their future endeavors. Musk said that he isn’t very religious but he did pray for the success of the Demo-2 mission. Well, his prayers have been answered and there’s a long way to go for SpaceX.