Four astronauts buckled their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, were undocked from the International Space Station, and plunged into a fiery pre-dawn splashdown on Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico to complete the first operational flight of SpaceX’s futuristic touchscreen ferry.
Crew 1 commander Michael Hopkins, along with NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, left the space-related port of the station’s front harmony module at 8:35 p.m. EDT Saturday.
This meant that only the second piloted water landing was planned for NASA’s post-shuttle program for the commercial crew and only the third night in space history – the first in almost 45 years.
But the Crew Dragon ran a return to Earth textbook, left orbit, deployed four large parachutes, and settled south of Panama City, Florida at 2:56 a.m. to complete a mission of 2,688 orbits in 168 days Started last November.
“Dragon, on behalf of NASA and the SpaceX teams, we welcome you back to planet Earth and thank you for flying SpaceX,” beamed the company’s capsule communicator. “For those of you who have signed up for our frequent flyer program, you have earned 68 million miles on this trip.”
“It’s good to be back on planet earth,” replied Hopkins. “And we’re going to take those miles. Are they transferable?”
“And Dragon, we need to refer you to our marketing department for this policy.”
Despite the night landing, NASA’s WB-57 chase aircraft captured spectacular infrared views of the capsule as it sank through the dense lower atmosphere, while cameras aboard SpaceX’s salvage ship showed the moment it was hosed down.
SpaceX crews rushed to the Crew Dragon to secure the spaceship and bring it on board a company salvage ship. The astronauts stayed inside and waited for the capsule to be brought aboard, where staff stood ready to help them get off on stretchers when they were back to gravity after five and a half months in space.
“What a ride! Thank you to the @NASA, @SpaceX and @USCG teams for a safe and successful journey back to earth,” tweeted Glover. “Another step closer to family and home!”
Before Hopkins stepped out alone, he radioed air traffic controllers at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California and said, “On behalf of Crew-1 and our families, we just want to thank you.”
“We’d like to say thank you for this amazing vehicle, Resilience,” he said. “We said it before the mission, and I’ll say it again later here. It’s amazing what can be achieved when people come together. Finally, let me just say frankly that you are all changing the world. Congratulations. It.” is great to be back. “
After medical examinations and phone calls to friends and family, all four crew members were to be flown ashore in a helicopter and handed over to NASA personnel for a return flight to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
While mission managers prefer landings in daylight, inclement weather precluded re-entry plans on Wednesday and Saturday. With mild winds early Sunday, NASA and SpaceX agreed to aim for the Crew 1 astronauts to return before dawn.
“Night landing? At sea? It’s good to have a naval aviator on board! You have this” @AstroVicGlover !!! “Astronaut Nick Hague tweeted, noting Glover’s experience as an F / A-18 carrier pilot in the Navy’s Crew of Resilience.”
In contrast to the first piloted Crew Dragon splashdown last August, when the spaceship was quickly surrounded by boaters enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Gulf, the Coast Guard planned to create a 10-mile-wide safety zone for this landing to keep onlookers in the early morning keep away far away.
The return of the Crew Dragon completed a record crew rotation that required two takeoffs and two landings on four different spacecraft in just three weeks to replace the entire seven-person crew on the International Space Station.
On April 9 abrought Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei to the station after taking off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They replaced – Sergey Ryzhikov, Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Kate Rubins – who returned to Earth on April 17th.
Then, on April 24th, a Crew Dragon brought Crew-2 commander Shane Kimbrough, NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and Japanese aviator Akihiko Hoshide. The first stage of the Falcon 9 missile is that also helped start Hopkins and Company, the crew they are replacing on board the station.
After Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi helped the Crew-2 astronauts settle aboard the laboratory complexsaid goodbye to his seven crew members on Saturday evening and floated in their own crew kites to undock.
After moving a safe distance away, the ship’s flight computer fired the ship’s brake thrusters for about 16.5 minutes from 2:03 a.m. on Sunday.
The rocket fire moved through space at more than 300 km / h – more than 83 soccer fields per second – and slowed the Crew Dragon 40 km / h, just enough to make the other side of orbit on a path to the Gulf from into the dense lower atmosphere dropping Mexico landing zone.
Protected by a high-tech heat shield, the Crew Dragon hit the perceptible atmosphere at around 2:45 a.m. and quickly slowed down in a fire of atmospheric friction.
As soon as they exited the plasma heating zone, the spacecraft’s parachutes unfolded, allowing the ship to settle into the gulf for a relatively smooth impact.
The last nighttime water landing occurred in October 1976 when two cosmonauts in a Soviet-era Soyuz spaceship, who made an unplanned descent in blizzard-like conditions after a failed docking, were blown off course into a large lake in Kazakhstan. It took the rescue teams nine hours to bring the spaceship ashore and rescue the cosmonauts.
The only other nocturnal splash came in December 1968 when the Apollo 8 crew, returning home from a Christmas trip around the moon, made a planned, uneventful landing in the Pacific Ocean before dawn.