SpaceX Returns Crew-1 Astronauts to Earth after Record Setting Mission
All went smoothly
Early Sunday morning, just before 3 am Eastern Time, four astronauts splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City, Florida.
This momentous event marked the end of a successful mission for NASA, led by Elon Musk's SpaceX, to take the astronauts to and from the International Space Station. This is the first of what the space agency is calling an operational mission, as well as being the longest mission duration for a crewed American spacecraft, having lasted 168 days.
The mission began six months ago when a SpaceX rocket named Dragon Resilience lifted off with four astronauts - three from NASA and one from Japan's space agency. These astronauts were Captain Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker of NASA and Soichi Noguchi of JAXA, the Japanese space agency.
“All four crew members are in great shape and great spirits and doing really well,” Holly Ridings, NASA’s chief flight director, said at a news conference after the landing. This nighttime return was particularly special, as the last time that NASA astronauts splashed down in the dark was in 1968, when the three astronauts of Apollo 8, the first to orbit the moon, returned to Earth.
The Trip Home
The astronauts' journey home was a lengthy one. At 6:25 PM the astronauts boarded the Dragon Capsule and closed the hatch. Two more hours passed before the capsule left the International Space Station, as the crew checked to ensure that there were no oxygen leaks from the capsule or the space station.
At 8:35 PM, the Dragon Capsule autonomously undocked from the space station and performed a series of thruster firings to move itself away from the space station. At 10:17 PM the thruster firings were completed.
The capsule then orbited the planet until it was in position for splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.
Just before 2:00 AM the Crew jettisoned what is known as the "trunk" section of the spacecraft. This is the cylindrical compartment below the capsule. After being jettisoned, this part was burned up in the atmosphere. Five minutes later, the capsule fired its thrusters for approximately 16 minutes to drop out of orbit.
Once it was low enough in Earth’s atmosphere, parachutes deployed to gently lower the capsule into the sea.
As soon as the capsule landed on the water, several recovery boats were sent to retrieve both the crew and the capsule. Before retrieving the astronauts from the capsule and hoisting the capsule onto the recovery ship, SpaceX technicians inspected the craft to make sure there were no fuel leaks, poisonous fumes or other hazards that would endanger the crew.
After this was completed, recovery crew moved very quickly. The crew attached cables to the capsule and were able to hoist the capsule onto the recovery ship in under 30 minutes after splashdown.
After some final checks of the capsule, the hatch was opened by SpaceX crew and the astronauts were helped out of the capsule. After exiting the capsule the astronauts were taken to a medical area to make sure that they had not suffered any injuries or negative affects from their six months in space. The astronauts will also be placed in a semi-quarantine, as their immune systems will have been weakened by their time in space.
After these medical checks, the astronauts will be transported back to the mainland and then to Houston, where they will be reunited with their loved ones and friends.
As Captain Hopkins was being assisted in exiting the capsule, he thanked the SpaceX crew and NASA saying, “I want to say thank you for this amazing vehicle, Resilience. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together. Finally, I would just like to say, quite frankly, y’all are changing the world. Congratulations. It’s great to be back.”
The mission has been deemed a success. NASA public affairs officer Leah Cheshire stated, “It really could not have been a more flawless journey home for Crew Dragon Resilience."