Tag Archives: NASA

SpaceX: NASA astronauts return safely from milestone mission

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America’s first crewed spaceship to fly to the International Space Station in nearly a decade returned safely to Earth on Sunday, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico.

The mission, carried out jointly by NASA and the private company SpaceX, demonstrated that the United States has the capacity once more to send its astronauts to space and bring them back.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed into the water off Pensacola, Florida at 2:48 pm (1848 GMT), trailed by its four main parachutes.

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It was the first water landing for a crewed US spaceship since the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission.

“It’s truly our honor and privilege,” said pilot Doug Hurley, who was joined on the mission by commander Bob Behnken.

“On behalf of the NASA and SpaceX teams, welcome back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX,” replied SpaceX’s Mike Heiman, to laughter in the control room.

– Uninvited visitors –

A flotilla of civilian boats swarmed the landing zone as a recovery ship sped to the scorched capsule and hoisted it aboard with its crane.

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The Coast Guard said it had warned people to stay away from the capsule but “numerous boaters” ignored the requests.

The “capsule was in the water for a good period of time,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, “the boats just made a beeline for it.”

This NASA photo released August 2, 2020 shows the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft as it lands with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida.  Bill INGALLS / NASA / AFP

The hatch opening was delayed as a team worked to stop a potentially dangerous leak of rocket fuel vapor.

“What’s not common is having passers-by approach the vehicle at close range with nitrogen-tetroxide in the atmosphere… We need to make sure we’re warning people not to get close to the spacecraft in the future,” Bridenstine said.

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Around an hour after splashdown, the astronauts exited the capsule and headed for shore on a helicopter.

They were reunited with their families in Houston, where they walked off a plane — in apparently good physical shape and upbeat spirits — at a military base.

Addressing a socially distanced welcome ceremony in a hangar, Behnken, a veteran of the Space Shuttle program, praised the SpaceX team behind the successful mission.

“There’s something special about having that capability to launch and bring your own astronauts home,” he said.

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A visibly excited SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the mission heralded a new era.

“We’re going to go to the Moon, we’re going to have a base on the Moon; we’re going to Mars,” he said.

“I’m not very religious but I prayed for this one.”

This handout photo released courtesy of NASA shows support teams and curious recreational boaters arrive at the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft shortly after it landed with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida on August 2, 2020.  Bill INGALLS / NASA / AFP

– Space autonomy –

President Donald Trump — who had travelled to Florida for the capsule’s launch two months ago — hailed its safe return.

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“Thank you to all!” he tweeted. “Great to have NASA Astronauts return to Earth after very successful two month mission.”

The United States has had to rely on Russia for rides to space since the last Space Shuttle flew in 2011.

The mission is also a huge win for Musk’s SpaceX, which was founded in only 2002 but has leap-frogged its way past Boeing, its main competitor in the commercial space race.

The US has paid the two companies a total of about $7 billion for their “space taxi” contracts, though aerospace giant Boeing’s efforts have floundered.

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– Atmospheric re-entry –

The Crew Dragon capsule performed several precisely choreographed sequences in order to return home safely.

First, it jettisoned its “trunk” that contains its power, heat and other systems, which burned up in the atmosphere.

This handout photo released courtesy of NASA shows the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft is seen as it lands with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, on August 2, 2020. NASA/AFP

It then fired its thrusters to maneuver into the proper orbit and trajectory for splashdown.

As it re-entered the atmosphere at a speed of around 17,500 mph (28,000 kph), it experienced temperatures of 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1900 degrees Celsius).

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It deployed two sets of parachutes on its descent, bringing its speed down to a mere 15 mph as it hit the Gulf of Mexico.

Endeavour will now undergo a six-week inspection to certify the vessel as worthy of future low-Earth orbit missions.

The next mission — dubbed “Crew-1” — will involve a team of four: three NASA astronauts along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency mission specialist Soichi Noguchi.

Launch is set for late September, and the crew is due to spend six months on the space station.


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Breaking: SpaceX craft carrying 2 astronauts depart ISS for Earth

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The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft shoved off from the International Space Station on Saturday with two US astronauts on board, beginning their journey back to Earth despite a storm threatening Florida.

NASA footage showed the capsule drifting slowly away from the ISS in the darkness of space, ending a two month stay for the first US astronauts to reach the orbiting lab on an American spacecraft in nearly a decade.

“And they are off!” the US space agency tweeted, with Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken set to splash down Sunday.

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“(They) will spend one more night in space prior to returning to their homeland, Earth,” NASA tweeted.

Their proposed splash-down sites are off the coast of western Florida’s panhandle, while tropical storm Isaias is headed toward the state’s east coast.

The first US astronauts to reach the International Space Station on an American spacecraft in nearly a decade might not come home this weekend as scheduled because of Hurricane Isaias, NASA said July 31, 2020. Credit: AFP

NASA opted to go ahead with bringing the pair home despite the threat of Isaias, which was downgraded to a tropical storm from a hurricane on Saturday.

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The agency later added the capsule was confirmed to be “on a safe trajectory.”

“Now is the entry, descent and splashdown phase after we undock, hopefully a little bit later today,” Hurley said in a farewell ceremony aboard the ISS that was broadcast on NASA TV.

“The teams are working really hard, especially with the dynamics of the weather over the next few days around Florida,” he said.

Earlier, during the ISS ceremony, Behnken said that “the hardest part was getting us launched. But the most important part in bringing us home.”

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Addressing his son and Hurley’s son, he held up a toy dinosaur that the children chose to send on the mission and said: “Tremor The Apatosaurus is headed home soon and he’ll be with your dads.”

Behnken later tweeted: “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go.”

‘Exciting day’
Mission chief Chris Cassidy called it an “exciting day” and hailed the importance of having a new means to transport astronauts.

The mission, which blasted off May 30, marked the first time a crewed spaceship had launched into orbit from American soil since 2011 when the space shuttle program ended.

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It was also the first time a private company has flown to the ISS carrying astronauts.

This handout picture released courtesy of NASA shows SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour firing one of its thrusters to back away from the International Space Station photographed by Space Station Commander Chris Cassidy on August 1, 2020. Chris Cassidy / NASA / AFP

The US has paid SpaceX and aerospace giant Boeing a total of about $7 billion for their “space taxi” contracts.

But Boeing’s program has floundered badly after a failed test run late last year, which left SpaceX, a company founded only in 2002, as the clear frontrunner.

For the past nine years, US astronauts travelled exclusively on Russian Soyuz rockets, for a price of around $80 million per seat.


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