CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The first astronauts to orbit aboard a SpaceX capsule are heading for a retro-style reentry in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday afternoon to cap off a two-month test flight.
It will be the first water landing in 45 years for NASA astronauts and the first return to the Gulf. Unlike Florida’s Atlantic coast, which was already feeling the effects of Tropical Storm Isaias, waves and winds were calm near Pensacola in the Florida Channel.
Test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken left the International Space Station overnight Saturday to Sunday, and woke up to a recording of their young children urging them to “rise up and shine” and “we can’t wait to see you “.
“Don’t worry, you can sleep in tomorrow,” said Theo, Behnken’s 6-year-old son, who was promised a puppy after the robbery. “Hurry back so we can get my dog. »
Their atypical return journey by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX – the first commercially built and operated spacecraft to carry people to and from orbit – was to be fast, bumpy and hot, at least on the outside. Immersion is scheduled for 8:48 p.m. (French time).
The Crew Dragon capsule, named Endeavor by its crew, was expected to go from an orbital speed of 28,000 km/h to 560 km/h during atmospheric re-entry and finally to 24 km/h during splashdown. . Maximum heating during descent: 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,900 degrees Celsius). Maximum G-forces: four to five times the force of Earth’s gravity.
A SpaceX recovery craft with more than 40 people, including doctors and nurses, was about to spring into action as it splashed down, with two smaller, faster craft ahead. To ensure the safety of returning astronauts amid the pandemic, the recovery team self-quarantined for two weeks and were tested for the coronavirus.
SpaceX expected the craft to take half an hour to get to the capsule and additional time to get it out of the water and onto the deck. A flight surgeon would be the first to examine the capsule once the hatch was opened. After the medical examinations, the astronauts were to return to Houston.
The last time NASA astronauts returned from space to water was on July 24, 1975, in the Pacific, the scene of most splashdowns, to end a joint US-Soviet mission known as Apollo-Soyuz. Mercury and Gemini crews parachuted into the Atlantic in the early to mid-1960s, while most subsequent Apollo capsules touched down in the Pacific. The only Russian “splashdown” occurred in 1976 on a partially frozen lake in the middle of a blizzard, following an aborted mission; recovery took hours.
SpaceX made history with this mission, which launched May 30 from Florida. It was the first time a private company had launched people into orbit and also the first launch of NASA astronauts from their own territory in nearly a decade. Hurley has come full circle, serving as the pilot of NASA’s final space shuttle flight in 2011 and commander of that SpaceX flight.
NASA has turned to SpaceX and also Boeing to ferry astronauts to and from the space station, following the shuttles’ retirement. Until Hurley and Behnken launched into orbit, NASA astronauts relied on Russian rockets.
SpaceX needs six weeks to inspect the capsule before launching the next crew around the end of September. This next four-astronaut mission will spend a full six months aboard the space station. The Hurley and Behnken capsule will be refurbished for another flight next spring.
Boeing does not plan to launch its first crew until next year. The company encountered major software problems when launching its Starliner capsule, without anyone on board, last year.
In defeating Boeing, SpaceX claimed an American flag left aboard the space station by Hurley and the rest of the crew of the last shuttle. The flag – which also flew on the shuttle’s first flight – was carefully packed aboard the Crew Dragon for the return home.