A capsule transporting two American astronauts safely landed in the waters off of Florida’s Gulf coast on Sunday August 2, 2020 at 14:48 EDT. Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken of NASA are the first US crew to complete a splashdown since the Apollo command 45 years ago.
The pair were traveling in Space X’s Crew Dragon capsule after completing a two-month mission at the International Space Station (ISS). Four parachutes decelerated the speed of the capsule’s descent from 350 mph to 15 mph as the craft hit the water.
SpaceX vessels awaited the arrival of the astronauts. Once the vessels collected the men, the astronauts were given quick medical examinations before being transferred to the mainland via helicopter.
In an unannounced arrival, private boats were crowded near the landing zone of the Crew Dragon moments before the capsule’s descent. Officials escorted the boats away from the area amid safety concerns, as the capsule’s propulsion system excretes toxic nitrogen tetroxide fumes harmful to humans.
On this concern, NASA admin Jim Bridenstine expressed “we need to make sure that we’re warning people not to get close to the spacecraft in the future.”
What is the SpaceX Crew Dragon?
The Crew Dragon is a SpaceX-designed capsule capable of transporting humans from Earth to the ISS. Over an 8-year period and twenty designs later, the Dragon spacecraft holds a maximum of seven passengers. Hurley’s and Behnken’s two-person trial of the craft enabled the rest of the space to be filled with extra supplies.
The Space X Crew Dragon capsule was launched into space on May 30, 2020 on a Falcon 9 rocket.
The capsule contains thrusters that enable autonomous control of the crafts’ gears, allowing astronauts to maneuver through space and attach to the ISS station. Making headway in spacecraft design, the Crew Dragon additionally houses sleek touch-screen control.
Attached to the Falcon 9 rocket, the SpaceX Crew Dragon lifted off into space on May 30, 2020 as part of a two-month trial mission at the ISS. On the launch, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk expressed his happiness in seeing the corporation’s goal to fruition in working with NASA.
“I’m really quite overcome with emotion on this day, so it’s kind of hard to talk, frankly,” Musk said.”It’s been 18 years working towards this goal, so it’s hard to believe that it’s happened.”
NASA and the SpaceX Crew Dragon
The initial two-month mission was part of a greater scheme between NASA and private space technology corporations such as SpaceX to deliver humans from U.S. soil to the Space Station.
As the first spacecraft to carry humans from U.S. soil in 9 years, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is monumental in NASA’s plan to delegate space station launches to privately-owned companies.
On the shift in the Agency’s relationship with private corporations, Bridestine commented: “We want to be one customer of many customers in a very robust commercial marketplace in low-Earth orbit.”
“But we also want to have numerous providers that are competing against each other on cost and innovation and safety, and really create this virtuous cycle of economic development and capability,” Bridestine continued.
Why is the success of the launch so important?
In 2011, NASA abandoned the use of space shuttles and have since paid Russian Soyuz spacecrafts to transport its astronauts, costing the agency millions of dollars. Hence, the success of Crew Dragon has massive implications for the future of NASA. Most importantly, human transport to space can now be made possible with the help of privately-owned companies, including Space X.
As the first private corporation to launch astronauts to the International Space Agency and back, SpaceX has cemented its reputation as the leading privately-owned space technology company in the United States.
As for future collaborations between SpaceX and NASA, BBC correspondent Jonathan Amos regarded the commercial success as “crucial for restoring American prestige in human spaceflight.”
NASA plans to further utilize Space X’s “taxi service” to the ISS. The next Space X launch, named Crew 2, is planned for September 2020. By early 2021, SpaceX hopes to have completed 3 missions with the Dragon in collaboration with NASA.