The Crew Dragon returned from the International Space Station back to the Earth Sunday, August 2. As it dived into our planet’s atmosphere, it roared. As NASA astronaut Bob Behnken, who was in the spacecraft, said, “it really came alive.” “It doesn’t sound like a machine; it sounds like an animal,” he added.
The return was a spectacle to watch. The thrusters- the propulsive devices fitted into rockets- fired and the heat inside the capsule built up to a temperature of 3500 degrees Fahrenheit. Flames surrounded the spacecraft, blackening the once-white body and clouding the windows.
Despite this, Behnken and the astronaut who accompanied him, Doug Hurley, were comfortable and composed. They said that the mission was “flawless” during their first news conference since completing the test flight, on Tuesday.
Behnken said: “The atmosphere starts to make noise, you can hear that rumble outside the vehicle and as the vehicle tries to control you feel a little bit of that, that shimmy in your body.”
However, both of them were still “really, really comfortable coming through the atmosphere, even though it felt like we were inside of an animal,” he added.
Hurley said, “The vehicle was rock solid.”
The landing occurred in the Gulf of Mexico which is 39 miles south-east of Pensacola, Florida. This is a historical mission, the first spacecraft to be launched from the US in nine years (the last one being Apollo in 2011). This launch also made SpaceX the first ever private company to put humans in orbit. It began two months ago when Behnken and Hurley were launched in the Crew Dragon from the Kennedy Space Center to the ISS.
SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk and headquartered in California, signed a contract with NASA to design rockets that can fly astronauts to space. Boeing, the American aerospace company, is also a part of this agreement.
Behnken and Hurley also said that the Crew Dragon has great strength and stamina, enduring a fiery ride that started at 17,500 mph and flew to 240 miles up into orbit, then plunged down into the sea.
During the return, the trunk- a module in the rocket that is unpressurized and is covered in solar arrays on one half- disconnected from the capsule. It then fired its thrusters, causing the “deorbit” burn, which defined the landing trajectory for the spacecraft. The parachute was also deployed, which brought the events to an end.
Behnken said, “All the separation events, from the trunk separation through the parachute firings, were very much like getting hit in the back of a chair with a baseball bat, you know just a crack.”
Once the spacecraft was in the water, recovery teams immediately got to work. They first made sure that the vehicle with safe, along with a crew of civilian boaters who floated dangerously close to the rocket that was loaded with propellant
Both NASA and SpaceX said that they must control the crowd better from next time.
However, the two astronauts inside the spacecraft didn’t know that there were so many people surrounding them and waiting to greet them, as the windows were murky because of the flames. “You could basically tell that it was daylight but very little else,” said Hurley. “So we didn’t really see anything clearly out the windows.”
They first brought out the satellite phone they were carrying to test whether or not it was working. The first person they called was to the console of the flight director at NASA’s mission control center in Houston.
“Hi, this is Bob and Doug,” the astronauts said. “We’re in the ocean.”
The flight director, Anthony Vareha, said, “Yeah, I can see that.” After the call was finished, a colleague suggested that he should have responded differently: “Oh, crap, was splashdown supposed to be today?”
After this call, Hurley and Behnken called their wives, who were also both astronauts.
“As all folks know that have gone through this, as a family member, you’re kind of helpless, until you hear the voice of your loved one on the other end,” said Hurley. “And this was a great chance to reassure them that we were in the water. We were okay.”
They boarded on the deck of the recovery ship after around thirty minutes. They were taken to the shore on a helicopter, where an airplane and a pizza party were awaiting.
The airplane took them to their home in Houston, Texas. They reunited with their wives and children, ready to return to normal life on Earth. And fulfil certain promises; for Behnken, this was getting his 6-year-old son a puppy.
However, they will first have a conversation about the responsibilities.
Behnken said that this son has to “show me that he’s ready to take on that responsibility.” “Otherwise, it’ll be my dog instead of his,” he added.