Featured Image: Endeavour gently falls into the Gulf of Mexico under parachute after reentry. (Image credit: SpaceX and NASA via AP)
PENSACOLA, FLORIDA – After 64 days, SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission, the final test of the Crew Dragon capsule before regular crewed operations, has come to an end, safely bringing astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken back to Earth.
The capsule autonomously undocked from the ISS Sunday August 1, completing 63 days of being docked. After completing several more orbits, the command to perform a deorbit burn was sent from the control center in Hawthorne, California. As the procedure proceeded, both commentators spoke of how perfect the “downhill ride” had been.
At 2:48 pm EDT Sunday August 2, Endeavor splashed down at the Pensacola landing zone. SpaceX had previously published seven potential landing areas around Florida. With Tropical Storm Isaias off the east coast, those sites were whittled down to four on the west coast. Pensacola was chosen as the primary with Panama City as the secondary landing site.
The publishing of the sites led to some heavier boat traffic in the area, with some boaters violating US Coast Guard orders and making a beeline for the landing site. The Coast Guard was required to advise several vessels to move out of the 10- mile standoff zone. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine noted that the crowd of boats “was not what we were anticipating.” During the live coverage, SpaceX engineer Kate Tice quipped, “Maybe next time we shouldn’t announce our landing zone.”
And their former crewmate and ISS cosmonaut Ivan Vagner found the landing site during their pass over and took photos, showing the stream of boats heading toward the capsule, most of which were privately owned, civilian traffic.
Once aboard the recovery vessel, GO Navigator, the egress procedure had to be held due to an excess trace amount of NTO (nitrogen tetroxide), one of the two hypergolic fuels used by the Draco thrusters, in the service section between the outer and inner hatch of Dragon. After several tests of the atmosphere around the capsule, and an air purge of the service section, the egress was completed with Hurley and Behnken being removed from the capsule and lifted onto an awaiting gurney to be taken to medical for checks. Once the checks were complete, the astronauts boarded a helicopter and flew from Navigator to NAS Pensacola, where they boarded a Gulfstream jet and took off for Houston.
GO Navigator arrived in port around 10 pm EDT Sunday night, with our very own photographer Kyle Montgomery being present to document the return.
This flight was historical in many ways. It was the first launch of personnel from US soil since the closure of the Shuttle program in 2011. It was the first launch of astronauts aboard a privately produced spacecraft. It qas the first all-new American spacecraft to fly crew since the tests of the Shuttle in 1980. This splashdown was the first for an American crewed mission in 45 years, since the end of the Apollo and Skylab missions.
With the successful end of this test mission, SpaceX will commence regular crewed missions to the ISS, with 6 currently being contracted over the next 4 years. After a thorough inspection of all the data from this mission and return, Crew-1 will be set for launch some time in September. Crew-1 is scheduled to fly four members of the Expedition 64 crew, Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker from NASA and Soichi Noguchi from JAXA.
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