As expected, the capsule slammed onto four parachutes at 2:48 p.m. local time at about 25 kilometers per hour in seawater, 60 kilometers off the Florida coast. In space, the capsule was still traveling at 25,000 km / h. It was the world’s first private manned space flight.
A complete success for Elon Musk
The mission is a huge success for billionaire and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk. His space flight company SpaceX completely handled the entire mission from the reusable rocket to the reusable capsule in cooperation with NASA.
For publicity purposes, the two astronauts drove a Tesla from the Elon Musk group to the launch pad in Florida. The two astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley have spent the last two months on the International Space Station.
The mission was under good auspices. Last year, SpaceX was already able to fly an unmanned Dragon Crew capsule to the ISS fully automatically and bring it back. He landed in the Atlantic in early March 2019.
No major issues have been made public, even with the current manned mission. Nevertheless, the maneuver of returning the capsule with braking maneuvers, entering the Earth’s atmosphere with temperatures above 1600 degrees Celsius on the heat shield and opening the main parachutes is risky. During this time, the radio contact switches off for six minutes.
Waterproof and recyclable capsule
Immediately after the Dragon Crew capsule was submerged in the Atlantic, recovery teams from SpaceX and NASA began securing with ships and helicopters. Technically speaking, the capsule, named Endeavor, could have been swimming on the surface of the sea for several days, NASA said. There would also be food and drink on board.
Because the capsule is “waterproof”, it can be reused next year for the Crew 2 mission. The last time a US manned space capsule (Apollo) landed at sea was 45 years ago. Then the space shuttle flights began. All manned space flights of the Russians and the Chinese land on land.
After disembarking the picture book and quickly fishing out of the capsule from the sea on a rescue boat, there were delays. The capsule hatch was not opened initially because small residues of highly toxic fuel (nitrogen tetroxide; NTO) were measured near the exit hatch.
On television footage, it could be seen that members of the ship’s rescue crew sometimes approached the capsule only with breathing apparatus. According to the scenario, the two astronauts should have left the capsule within an hour of landing at sea. This was then exceeded by almost 20 minutes.
Previously, small residues of toxic fuel from a feed part of the capsule were repeatedly measured until the residues were below the limit values. At approximately 4:08 p.m. local time, the two astronauts then left the capsule after a total of 19 hours of return flight. They were put on a stretcher on the ship because after two months of weightlessness the astronauts first have to get used to gravity on Earth, and the ship swayed slightly.
SpaceX fought competition with Boeing which would be the first to send a manned capsule into space. However, the first unmanned flight of Boeing’s unmanned Starliner capsule failed in December 2019. Boeing has to prove again in one flight that its capsule is actually safe.
NASA boss Jim Bridenstin described the SpaceX mission as a milestone in commercializing human spaceflight. It is no longer the task of NASA to perform human spaceflight alone. On the contrary, NASA will be a client in the future.
Formally, the now completed Dragon Crew mission was still a demonstration flight. The Dragon Crew’s first regular manned capsule for the ISS could then take place at the end of September – with four astronauts on board. There are three Americans and one Japanese on the crew list – and no Russian. Cosmonauts can continue to use their Soyuz capsules while flying to the ISS.