The first manned spacecraft in the United States to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) since the end of the shuttle era, a decade ago, successfully landed this Sunday with two astronauts on board in waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The four main parachutes from the privately owned SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavor capsule were deployed and floated gently after the spacecraft, with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board, landed off the coast of Pensacola, Florida to 14:48 (18:48 GMT), as scheduled.
Returning Hurley said: “It is truly our honor and privilege” to participate in this mission.
President Donald Trump, who had traveled to Florida for the capsule launch two months ago, praised the successful return and thanked project participants.
“It is wonderful to have NASA astronauts back on Earth after a very successful two-month mission. Thank you all!” He wrote on his Twitter account.
Behnken and Hurley were the first American astronauts to travel in this capsule to the ISS – 400 km from Earth.
The capsule was collected in Atlantic waters by the recovery boat “GO Navigator”. There the astronauts must undergo a medical check-up before being transferred to earth.
The success of the mission demonstrates that the United States once again has the ability to send its astronauts into space and bring them back. Since the last flight of a space shuttle in 2011, he had had to appeal to Russia’s collaboration for that purpose and pay about $ 80 million per seat occupied in his Soyuzs.
The final phase of this operation of the US space agency in partnership with the company of the eccentric businessman Elon Musk, faced until the last moment fears about the risk of tropical storm Isaías, which borders the Florida peninsula and that had ruled out the original place. for the landing.
A mission success also marks a major victory for SpaceX, which Musk founded in 2002 and has overtaken Boeing, its top competitor in the commercial space race.
The United States has paid those two companies about $ 7 billion for their contracts for the “space taxi” service, but the efforts of the aerospace giant Boeing have so far seriously failed.
Furthermore, Behnken and Hurley have become the first astronauts to be taken into space by a private company hired by NASA.
– Re-entry into the atmosphere –
Hours before its arrival, the Crew Dragon capsule “Endeavor” had to go through several stages.
At 1:51 p.m. (5:51 p.m. GMT), it had to detach its “trunk”, which contains its energy source, heating and other systems, which were incinerated in the atmosphere.
Then their thrusters were fired to maneuver into orbit and achieve the proper trajectory for the landing.
The program indicated that at 2:32 p.m. (6:32 p.m. GMT) it would re-enter the atmosphere at a speed of around 28,000 kph.
The ship’s heat shield had to withstand temperatures of 1900 degrees Celsius, leading to a breakdown in communications for several minutes.
The capsule then had to deploy two sets of parachutes on its descent, to reduce its speed to just 24 km / h upon reaching the water.
It is the first landing of a US spacecraft since the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975.
– Astro dads –
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft departed from the International Space Station on Saturday night.
NASA images showed the capsule slowly drifting away from the ISS in the darkness of space, ending a two-month stay for both crew.
During a farewell ceremony at the station, Behnken stated that “the most difficult part was throwing us. But the most important part is taking us home.”
Addressing her son and Hurley’s son, he picked up a toy dinosaur that the children chose to send on the mission and said, “Tremor the Apatosaurus will be heading home soon and will be with his parents.”
The return marks just the beginning of an era for Crew Dragon, as SpaceX and NASA look to future missions.
The “Endeavor” will return to Dragon SpaceX headquarters in Florida, where it will undergo a six-week inspection process, in which the data and its performance will be analyzed to certify that the spacecraft is suitable for future missions in the low Earth orbit.
ia / ec / llu / lda