SpaceX is the first private corporation in history to transport astronauts back and forth to the space station. On May 30th, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley were launched to the International Space Station (ISS). The flight, known as Demo-2, was the agency’s first launch of astronauts from American soil since the Space Shuttle fleet was grounded in 2011. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched Crew Dragon into space at Kennedy Space Center in Florida from historic Launch Pad 39A. On May 31st, the ship docked autonomously to the orbital laboratory. The astronauts tested the roles and capabilities of the spacecraft during their trip to show that the craft is safe and durable to carry humans on operational missions.
“During their 62 days aboard station, Behnken and Hurley contributed more than 100 hours of time to supporting the orbiting laboratory’s investigations, participated in public engagement events, and supported four spacewalks with Behnken and Cassidy to install new batteries in the station’s power grid and upgrade other station hardware,” the agency said. The astronauts embarked on a return trip to Earth after the two-month stay at ISS. They called the Crew Dragon spacecraft ‘Endeavour,’ undocked on August 1st from the Harmony module of the space station. Astronauts Behnken and Hurley made a return journey of 19 hours.
Today, August 2nd, with astronauts onboard, Dragon Endeavor reentered the fiery atmosphere of Earth at a speed of approximately 17,500 miles per hour. The spacecraft experienced temperatures in excess of 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. It then deployed its parachute sets to slow down and perform a parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of Pensacola, Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine shared his excitement, “We have SPLASHDOWN! Welcome home Behnken and Hurley!” he said. This is the company’s first human return from space. The successful splashdown by Crew Dragon marks the conclusion of the Demo-2 mission, which has formally returned the capability of human spaceflight to the US.
SpaceX recovery teams are tasked with retrieving the spacecraft and astronauts on board a ship named ‘GO Navigator.’ The recovery vessel includes a medical room where checks can be carried out by Behnken and Hurley to ensure their own wellbeing. NASA said 40 personnel are on board the ships, including engineers, qualified water recovery specialists, medical professionals, NASA cargo specialists and other support staff to assist the return of astronauts. “The recovery process should take about 45 minutes to an hour. Two fast boats carrying SpaceX personnel have deployed from the main recovery ship and are on their way to the Crew Dragon. The first boat will check the spacecraft and test for hazardous vapors in the immediate area. After they determine it’s safe, the Crew Dragon will be readied for recovery,” the agency wrote in a press release. “Meanwhile, those aboard the second fast boat will recover the spacecraft’s parachutes from the water. The main recovery ship will hoist the Crew Dragon onto the deck, and once the hatch is opened, medical teams will check out the astronauts and help them out of the spacecraft.”
Astronauts Behnken and Hurley carried back a symbolic flag from the United States that Hurley left in 2011 during the last Space Shuttle mission. Returning the flag to Earth is symbolic of the start of a new era in American spaceflight. – “This flag has spent some time up here, on the order of 9 years… I’m very proud to return this flag home and see what’s next for it on its journey to the Moon,” said Hurley.
The success of the Demo-2 mission shows SpaceX Crew Dragon is ready to launch astronauts on future operational missions. In September, the company is set to deploy a crew of four astronauts to the space station.
A big congrats to the SpaceX and NASA team for all your hard work! Thanks for making us proud to be human!
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