Four astronauts tied to their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, detached from the International Space Station and descended to a fiery eruption in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, shutting down the first operational flight of the futuristic touchscreen ferry spacecraft.
Crew-1 Commander Michael Hopkins, along with NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, disembarked from the port to the station’s Harmony spacecraft module at 8:35 p.m. EDT on Saturday.
This created only the second manned water landing for the NASA commercial crew program after the transfer and only the third night launch into space ̵
But the Crew Dragon performs a textbook returning to Earth, falling out of orbit, featuring four large parachutes and arranging a slight burst south of Panama City, Florida, at 2:56 a.m., completing a mission covering 2,688 orbits for 168 days since launching last November.
“Dragon, on behalf of NASA and the SpaceX teams, welcome you back to planet Earth and thank you for flying SpaceX,” the company’s capsule communicator said. “For those of you enrolled in our frequent flight program, you have earned 68 million miles from this trip.”
“It’s good to be back on planet Earth,” Hopkins replied. “And we’ll take those miles. Are they transferable?”
“And Dragon, we’ll need to direct you to our marketing department for this policy.”
Despite landing at night, NASA’s WB-57 tracking aircraft captures stunning infrared views of the capsule as it descends through the dense lower atmosphere, while cameras aboard the SpaceX recovery ship show the moment of the burst.
SpaceX crews rushed to Crew Dragon to secure the spacecraft and tow it aboard the company’s recovery ship. The astronauts stayed inside and waited for the capsule to be pulled aboard, where staff were set aside to help them out, on stretchers if necessary, as they began to adapt to gravity after five and a half months in space.
“What a walk! Thanks to the @NASA, @SpaceX and @USCG teams for a safe and successful trip back to Earth,” Glover tweeted. “One step closer to family and home!”
Before climbing alone, Hopkins called the radar controllers at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, saying, “On behalf of Crew-1 and our families, we just want to thank you.”
“We want to thank you for this amazing, sustainable vehicle,” he said. “We said it before the mission and I will say it here again after that. It’s amazing what can be achieved when people get together. Finally, I would just like to say, frankly, you are all changing the world. Congratulations. It’s great to be you return. “
After medical examinations and phone calls to the home of friends and family, all four crew members had to be taken ashore by helicopter and handed over to NASA staff for a flight back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
While mission leaders prefer daylight landings, bad weather rejects plans to re-enter on Wednesday and Saturday. With the expected mild wind in early Sunday, NASA and SpaceX agreed to head back before the Crew-1 astronauts’ dawn.
“Night landing? At sea? Good thing there’s a Naval Aviator on board! You got this one” @AstroVicGlover !!! “, tweeted astronaut Nick Hague, noting Glover’s experience as a Navy pilot F / A-18.” Soft landings to the Resilience Crew. “
Unlike the first manned launch of Crew Dragon last August, when the spacecraft was quickly surrounded by boatmen enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Persian Gulf, the Coast Guard planned to impose a 10-mile-wide safety zone for this landing to maintain spectators early in the morning away.
The return of Crew Dragon completed a record rotation of the crew, which required two launches and two landings with four different spacecraft in just three weeks to replace the entire seven-member crew of the International Space Station.
On April 9 atook Oleg Novitsky, Peter Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hay to the station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They replaced – Sergei Ryzhikov, Sergei Kud-Sverchkov and Kate Rubins – who returned to Earth on April 17.
Then, on April 24, Dragon Crew led Crew-2 Commander Shane Kimbro, NASA astronaut Megan MacArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Peske and Japanese pilot Akihiko Hoshide.. The first stage of the Falcon 9 missile, which also helped launch the Hopkins and company, the crew they replaced aboard the station.
After helping Crew-2 astronauts get on board the lab complex, Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi, who, said goodbye to his seven crew members on Saturday night and set sail in his own Crew Dragon to freak out.
After moving away to a safe distance, the ship’s flight computer fired the ship’s brake boosters in about 16.5 minutes, starting at 2:03 a.m. Sunday.
Moving through space at more than 17,100 miles per hour – more than 83 football fields per second – the rocket’s launch slowed the Crew Dragon by 258 miles per hour, just enough to throw the far side of its orbit into the dense lower atmosphere along a path aimed at Gulf of Mexico Landing Area.
Protected by a high-tech heat shield, Crew Dragon crashed into the noticeable atmosphere around 2:45 a.m. in the morning, quickly slowing down in a fire of atmospheric friction.
After leaving the plasma heating zone, the spacecraft’s parachutes deployed, allowing the ship to settle with relatively light impact in the Persian Gulf.
The last previous night landing was in October 1976, when two astronauts on a Soviet-era Soyuz spacecraft, making an unplanned descent into blizzard-like conditions after a failed dock, were blown into a large lake in Kazakhstan. The recovery crew took nine hours to move the spacecraft ashore and rescue the astronauts.
The only other night landing came in December 1968, when the Apollo 8 crew, returning from a Christmas trip around the moon, made a planned, trouble-free landing before dawn in the Pacific Ocean.