Four astronauts strapped into their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, freed from the International Space Station and plunged into a burning splashdown before dawn in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, shutting down the first operational flight of SpaceX’s futuristic touchscreen ferry.
Crew member Michael Hopkins along with NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi were disconnected from the space-facing harbor in the station’s forward Harmony module at 6 p.m. 20.35 EDT Saturday.
It created only the second controlled water landing for NASA’s commercial crew program after shuttle and only the third night splashdown in space history ̵
But the crew dragon performed a textbook that returned to Earth, fell out of orbit, deployed four large parachutes, and settled into a gentle splashdown south of Panama City, Florida, at 6 p.m. 02:56 and wrapped up a mission spanning 2,688 courses in 168 days since launch last November.
“Dragon, on behalf of NASA and the SpaceX teams, we welcome you back to planet Earth, and thank you for flying SpaceX,” the company’s capsule communicator announced. “For those of you who have signed up for our frequent flyer program, you have earned 68 million miles on this journey.”
“It’s good to be back on planet Earth,” Hopkins replied. “And we’re taking those miles. Can they be transferred?”
“And Dragon, we’ll have to refer you to our marketing department for this policy.”
Despite landing at night, NASA’s WB-57 tracking aircraft captured spectacular infrared views of the capsule as it crashed through the dense lower atmosphere, while cameras aboard SpaceX’s recovery ship showed the moment of splashdown.
SpaceX crews rushed to the crew kite to secure the spacecraft and tow it aboard a company recovery ship. The astronauts remained inside, waiting for the capsule to be pulled on board, with staff standing by to help them get out, if necessary, on stretchers as they began to adjust to gravity after five and a half months in space.
“What a trip! Thanks to the @ NASA, @ SpaceX and @ USCG teams for a safe and successful journey back to Earth,” Glover tweeted. “One step closer to family and home!”
Before Hopkins climbed out alone, he sent air traffic controllers at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, saying “on behalf of Crew-1 and our families, we just want to say thank you.”
“We want to say thank you for this amazing vehicle, Resilience,” he said. “We said it before the mission, and I’ll say it again here afterwards. It’s amazing what can be achieved when people come together. So finally, I just want to say, quite frankly, that you are all changing the world. Congratulations. It is nice to be back. “
After medical checks and phone calls home to friends and family, all four crew members were to fly ashore by helicopter and handed over to NASA personnel for a flight back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
While mission chiefs prefer landings in daylight, severe weather ruled out re-entry plans Wednesday and Saturday. With mild winds expected early Sunday, NASA and SpaceX agreed to target a return before dawn for the Crew-1 astronauts.
“Night landing? At sea? Well there’s a Naval Aviator on board! You got this” @AstroVicGlover !!! “tweeted astronaut Nick Hague, noting Glover’s experience as a Navy F / A-18 aviation pilot.” Soft landings for the resistance crew. “
Unlike the first pilot-controlled Crew Dragon splashdown last August, when the spacecraft was quickly surrounded by sailors enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Gulf, the Coast Guard planned to enforce a 10-mile safety zone for this landing to keep any spectators early on. the morning. well away.
Crew Dragon’s return completed a record-pace crew rotation that required two launches and two landings with four different spacecraft over just three weeks to replace the International Space Station’s entire seven-man crew.
April 9 aled Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei to the station following a launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They replaced – Sergey Ryzhikov, Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Kate Rubins – who returned to earth on April 17.
Then, on April 24, a crew dragon brought Crew-2 Commander Shane Kimbrough, NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japanese pilot Akihiko Hoshide. The first phase of the Falcon 9 rocket it also helped launch Hopkins and the company, the crew they replace on board the station.
After helping the Crew-2 astronauts settle aboard the laboratory complex, Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi, who, said goodbye to his seven crew members Saturday night and floated into their own crew kite to disconnect them.
After moving a safe distance away, the ship’s aircraft computer fired the ship’s brake propellers for approximately 16.5 minutes starting at 02:03 on Sunday.
Moving through space at more than 17,100 km / h – more than 83 football pitches per second – the rocket launch slowed the crew kite by 258 km / h, just enough to drop the other side of the orbit in the dense lower atmosphere on a path facing the Golf of Mexico landing zone.
Protected by a high-tech heat shield, Crew Dragon threw into the noticeable atmosphere around noon. 02.45 and braked quickly in a flame of atmospheric friction.
When out of the plasma warming zone, the spacecraft’s parachutes unfolded so that the ship could settle with a relatively gentle impact in the Gulf.
The most recent water landing on the night came in October 1976, when two cosmonauts in a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft making an unplanned descent under snowstorm-like conditions after a failed docking were blown off course in a large lake in Kazakhstan. It took recovery crews nine hours to move the spacecraft ashore and rescue the cosmonauts.
The only other night splashdown came in December 1968, when the crew of the Apollo 8, returning home from a Christmas trip around the moon, completed a planned, uneventful landing before dawn in the Pacific Ocean.