SpaceX capsule back on Earth, paves way for new manned US flights

Author: 
Ivan Couronne | AFP
ID: 
1552058753304578700
Fri, 2019-03-08 15:12

WASHINGTON: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule completed its NASA
demonstration mission Friday with a successful splashdown in the
Atlantic Ocean, paving the way for the resumption of manned space
flights from the US.
After hours of suspense, the Crew Dragon touched down in the
Atlantic Ocean at 8:45 am some 230 miles (370 kilometers) off the
coast of the US state of Florida.
The capsule brought its “crew” of one test dummy back to Earth
in the same way that American astronauts returned to the planet in
the Apollo era in the 1960s and 1970s, before the 1981-2011 Space
Shuttle Program.

Successful splashdown of the

#CrewDragon
right on time at 8:45 a.m. ET. pic.twitter.com/0qHhHzD4Js

— NASA Commercial Crew (@Commercial_Crew)
March 8, 2019

NASA TV footage showed the capsule gently drifting into the
ocean, its decent slowed by its four main orange and white
parachutes, which folded into the water around it as boats sped
toward the site.
“Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed!” the SpaceX Twitter
account tweeted.
“Beautiful parachute deployment,” said Benji Reed, the director
of crew mission management at SpaceX. “I’m still
shaking.”

An unmanned capsule of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft descends
down into the Atlantic Ocean, after a short-term stay on the
International Space Station, about 200 miles off the Florida coast,
US. (NASA via Reuters)

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine hailed the splashdown, saying
it “marked another milestone in a new era of human
spaceflight.”
Launched on Saturday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida,
Dragon docked at ISS the following day before successfully
undocking Friday some 250 miles over Sudan.
On NASA TV, it looked like a slow-motion ballet, even though the
two craft were actually orbiting Earth at 17,500 miles per
hour.
The re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere tested the vehicle’s heat
shield for the first time, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk had
previously said that the phase was “probably my biggest
concern.”
“You see the light from the atmosphere as it heats up,”
astronaut Bob Behnken said of re-entry. “You see some orange
light flickering.”
While Dragon’s crew member was a dummy named Ripley this time,
the mission sets the stage for a manned flight, which will see two
US astronauts — one of them Behnken — book a return trip to the
ISS sometime before the end of the year, according to NASA.
Boeing is also in on the project to resume manned space flight from
US soil after an eight year hiatus.

“It won’t be long before our astronaut colleagues are aboard
Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner vehicles, and we can’t wait,”
US astronaut Anne McClain said on behalf of the ISS crew after the
capsule left the station.
NASA and the administration of President Donald Trump have spent
all week extolling the historic nature of the mission.
It represents the first private space mission to the ISS, as well
as the first time a space vessel capable of carrying people was
launched by the US in eight years.
Dragon also marks a return to a “vintage” format: it is the
first US capsule since the pioneering Apollo program.
Capsules have no wings and fall to the earth, their descent slowed
only by parachutes — much like the Russian Soyuz craft, which
lands in the steppes of Kazakhstan.

SpaceX’s swanky new crew capsule undocks from the International
Space Station. The Dragon capsule pulled away from the orbiting lab
early Friday, a test dummy named Ripley its lone occupant. (NASA TV
via AP)

The last generation of US spacecraft, the Space Shuttles, landed
like airplanes. Shuttles took American astronauts to space from
1981 to 2011, but their cost proved prohibitive, while two of the
original four craft had catastrophic accidents, killing 14 crew
members.
After the program was retired, the US government, under then
president Barack Obama, turned toward SpaceX and Boeing to develop
a new way to ferry its crews, paying the firms for their transport
services.
Due to about three years of development delays, the switch has come
to fruition under Trump.
“I realize I’ve been holding my breath for five years. Not
exactly time to fully exhale, but another big milestone behind
us,” said Lori Garver, the former deputy administrator of NASA
who took part in awarding the initial contracts to SpaceX.
For now, Russia will continue to be the only country taking humans
to the ISS.
Space station astronauts have been stuck riding Russian rockets
since NASA’s shuttles retired eight years ago. NASA is counting
on SpaceX and Boeing to start launching astronauts this year.
SpaceX — which has been delivering station cargo for years — is
shooting for summer.
The launch systems are aimed at ending US reliance on Russian Soyuz
rockets for $80 million-per-seat rides to the $100 billion orbital
research laboratory, which flies about 250 miles (400 km) above
earth.

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Source: *FS – All – Science News Net
SpaceX capsule back on Earth, paves way for new manned US flights