Astronauts on SpaceX’s first crew flight said Tuesday that their dragon capsule “came alive” and looked like an animal as it descended through the atmosphere to a smooth splash in the Gulf of Mexico.
Two days after his return from the International Space Station, NASA’s Bob Behnken described his wild ride home in vivid detail. SpaceX provided Bacon and Doug Hurley videos and audio of previous splashdowns, so they would not be shocked during the test flight.
“Once we landed a bit in the atmosphere, the dragon actually came alive,” said Bacon from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The thrillers that kept the capsule on track were firing almost continuously, he said.
“It doesn’t sound like a machine, it sounds like an animal coming through the atmosphere, with all the puffs from the thrusters and atmospheric noise,” Behnken said.
When the capsule’s trunk fell away as planned, and when the parachute jerked into the open, Behenken said it felt like “getting hit on the back of a chair with a base bat, just a crack.”
Astronauts withstood 4.2 Gs- or 4.2 times the force as the Earth’s gravity.
Hurley said he was “almost kind of speechless” about how well the capsule performed and how well the two-month mission went.
SpaceX became the first private company to send astronauts into orbit with a May 30 lift from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, ending a nine-year launch drought from home soil for NASA astronauts. Since the shuttle’s retirement in 2011, NASA relied solely on Russia to transport astronauts to the space station.
“One of the things we’re most proud of is bringing the launch capability back to the Florida coast, back to the US, and of course, landing safely at the end of all of that,” Bacon said.
It was the first splashdown for NASA astronauts in 45 years. Russian capsules launch from Kazakhstan and return there, also on land.
The biggest surprise came after a splash Sunday afternoon when about two dozen pleasure boats headed for the capsule, not 40 miles (64 kilometers) off the coast of Pensacola, Florida.
Officials said the two Coast Guard ships stayed the required 10 miles (16 kilometers) away, but their requests to stay away from the public were ignored.
Hurley said that the capsule’s windows had become fragrant again and so neither he nor Behenken “could see the second flotilla that was out there.”
Hurley said, “We certainly appreciate those wanting to participate in the event, but there are some safety aspects as well … We have to pay attention to this because it can’t happen.
To avoid rocket fuel smoke – the hatch’s opening was delayed due to being toxic to breathe around the capsule.
“Just one word is wise for those who have thoughts of coming again in the future,” Bacon said. “We take extreme precautions to ensure that it is safe and we do so for a reason.”
As they waited for the hatch to open, the astronauts tested an on-board satellite phone, making a call to SpaceX’s control center, which immediately called it “standby” and hung them up. So then he called NASA’s flight director as well as his wives in Houston. According to Hurley, NASA requested the test after an astronaut whose Russian launch was canceled in 2018 and the crew had incorrect or missing numbers on their phones.
Behnken said that it was now his turn to support his wife NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, who would once again fly on the same dragon when he was ready again.
He promised his 6-year-old son, Theo, a dog once this test flight ended. The puppy will arrive in about two weeks, he said, once Theo understands how much work is required.
“Otherwise, it would be my dog instead.”
SpaceX capsules pack American astronauts for rare splash
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