Return to Earth of the two American astronauts, aboard the SpaceX capsule

Sylvie Claire / August 3, 2020

 

The water landing of "Crew Dragon", back from the International Space Station, took place without incident Sunday at 8:48 pm in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

A little over two months after reaching the International Space Station (ISS) aboard Crew Dragon, the SpaceX capsule, the two American astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley returned to earth in this same capsule on Sunday evening August 2. A successful end of mission which paves the way for regular manned flights with this new space vehicle for NASA.

 

In less than an hour, the two astronauts went from a speed of 28,000 km / h in orbit to a speed of 24 km / h at the time of the landing, four large parachutes having opened as planned after the burning atmospheric reentry. They landed at 2:48 p.m. local time (8:48 p.m. in Paris) off Pensacola in Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico, a site chosen to avoid tropical storm Isaias which is raging in the area.

 

"Welcome to earth, and thank you for flying SpaceX," the flight director told the astronauts, who responded immediately. “It was an honor and a privilege,” said Doug Hurley. The operation was delicate, even though the Crew Dragon capsule had completed this mission empty and without incident last year.

 

A toxic fume emptying from a capsule fuel tank delayed the opening of the hatch, preventing poisoning of the men as they exited. An hour and a quarter after their landing, the two astronauts were finally able to leave the capsule on stretchers, probably because of the necessary rehabilitation to Earth's gravity. They will return to Houston by air during the day.

 

End of the Russian monopoly

 

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley departed Cape Canaveral on May 30 and became the first astronauts to be flown to the ISS, 400 km from Earth, by a private company under contract with NASA. The two men had bid farewell to the three other Russian and American crew members on Saturday, and left the station without a hitch around 1:34 a.m. They spent the night on board, without incident, then donned their spacesuits for the sea. atmospheric re-entry and the end of the trip, the most perilous phase of the mission.

 

It was only after their confirmed release from the capsule that SpaceX founder Elon Musk stood up from his console in the control room near Los Angeles, applauding a historic success for the company he founded in 2002.

 

"There is no doubt that it was a huge relief," said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, as Elon Musk was on his way to Houston to meet the astronauts.

 

"It's great to see our NASA astronauts come back to earth after two months of a very successful mission. Thanks everyone! US President Donald Trump tweeted after the space shuttle ditched.

 

His rival for the November presidential election, Joe Biden, recalled that this privatization program had been launched by his predecessor - of which he was the vice-president -, saying he was "proud of the role that President Obama and I have played « .

 

"Today we have written a page of history," said NASA boss Jim Bridenstine. He said he wanted to repeat this type of public-private partnership for the return to the moon, with the Artemis program, and one day to go to Mars.

 

This successful round trip puts an end to the Russian monopoly on access to the ISS since the Americans put their space shuttles in the garage in July 2011. NASA will use the Dragon capsule on the order of twice a year to send four astronauts at once.

 

The mission may seem like a modest step in space exploration: Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley did not go to the moon or to Mars, only to the old space station, 400 km from Earth, where Russians and Americans and others have come and gone since 1998. NASA, however, sees it as a “revolution”, because SpaceX will give the United States back access to space, less expensive than its previous programs.

 

"We are entering a new era of human spaceflight, where NASA is no longer a buyer, owner and operator of equipment, but a customer among many customers in a very active commercial space sector," said Jim Bridenstine.

 

For three billion granted since 2011 under a fixed price contract, SpaceX has fully developed a new space taxi and promised six round trips to the ISS. Previously, the space agency ordered a specific vehicle from the industry giants, and assumed any budget overruns. In doing so, the ex-startup has beaten Boeing, whose Starliner capsule, developed for the same purpose, missed an empty test flight last year and won't be ready until 2021 at the earliest.

 

After this trip, the Crew Dragon capsule is to be transported to a SpaceX site in Florida for a six-week inspection to verify that it can once again be used as a space taxi. French astronaut Thomas Pesquet said this week he will also travel aboard the Crew Dragon for his second mission to the ISS in the spring of 2021.

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