Historic ‘odyssey’ comes to an end as SpaceX Crew Dragon pod splashes down
FLORIDA (US) – SpaceX’s Crew Dragon pod carrying US astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who had flown to the International Space Station, landed in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, bringing to an end a two-month voyage. It was NASA’s first manned mission from home turf in nne years.
Behnken and Hurley, who spent 64 days in space, undocked from the space station on Saturday and headed home to land in the placid waters off Florida’s Pensacola coast as per schedule at 2:48 pm ET. They spen 21 hours aboard Crew Dragon “Endeavor.”
At a ceremony hosted at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Hurley said: “This has been quite an odyssey. To be where we are now, the first crewed flight of Dragon, is just unbelievable.”
A first of kind by NASA in 45 years, the successful splash-down was a test of whether SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s shuttle can carry astronauts to and from orbit, which no private company has done before.
“This day heralds a new age of space exploration,” Musk said. “I’m not very religious, but I prayed for this one.”
According to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, the mission marked “a new era of human spaceflight where NASA is no longer the purchaser, owner and operator of all the hardware.”
The splash-down was witnessed by several people in private boats despite the Coast Guard restrictions and safety risks. NASA’s team sent a crane to hoist the pod out of the water and onto a boat.
The retrieval of the two astronauts was delayed a bit as the workers flushed its fuel tanks after detecting traces of nitrogen tetroxide fumes outside the capsule, which is toxic.
Hurley, giving a thumbs up as he was wheeled out of the spacecraft on a stretcher, a normal procedure as astronauts adjust to Earth’s gravity, said, “I’m just proud to be a small part of this whole effort to get a company and people to and from the space station,” said Hurley while displaying a thumbs up while being out of the pod on a stretcher.
“Thanks for doing the most difficult parts and the most important parts of human spaceflight – getting us into orbit and bringing us home,” Behnken told the mission control before the hatch was opened.
During the return journey, the on-board thrusters and two sets of parachutes helped slow the descent of the capsule from 17,500 miles per hour in orbit to 350 mph upon entering the atmosphere. While landing, the speed was just 15 mph.
Both astronauts are slated to undergo medical checks in Pensacola before being taken to Johnson Space Center.
“Congratulations SpaceX & NASA on completing first crewed Dragon flight!!,” Musk Tweeted after the successful landing adding an additional emoji of the US flag followed by the word “returned”. This referred to a competition with rival Boeing Co over which firm’s crew would bring back the US flag from the space station in 2011 which was left there by the last manned mission.
The duo brought back the flag in the cargo section of the pod.
(Photos syndicated via Reuters)
This story has been edited by BH staff and is published from a syndicated field