Billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk’s SpaceX has again created history by landing NASA astronauts in the water for the first time since 1975. Two NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley made a water landing on Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX also became the first Private Company to send astronauts to the orbit, when the aforementioned astronauts from NASA were sent.
SpaceX lands NASA astronauts in the ocean
These Astronauts made a re-entry to Earth after an almost 64-day trip to orbit. The last time NASA astronauts made water landings, it was during the historic American Apollo moon missions. The Crew Dragon was suspended under four gargantuan orange-and-white parachutes, the craft settled into calm waters near Pensacola, Fla. The craft settled gracefully into the water at a speed of 15 miles per hour. As soon as the Dragon landed, two small SpaceX boats arrived at the scene quickly to commence the operation to prepare the capsule to be recovered by the main recovery ship, inside the recovery ship the astronauts will be taken care of, by the ship’s crew.
After 4.p.m, the recovery crew opened the Crew Dragon’s hatch to help the passengers’ exit the craft, the two astronauts were still in their spacesuits. Post the exit from the craft Mr. Hurley thanked employees of NASA and SpaceX for their efforts, he said “you should take a moment to just cherish this day, especially given all the things that have happened this year” and that he felt proud to be a small part of this whole effort of transporting people to and from outer space, even though we humans have more than half a century worth of experience of space exploration, it is still and will always be one hell of an effort.
It wasn’t just the recovery crew who was present at the landing zone; before the recovery ship lifted the capsule out of the water a fleet of small private boats approached the scene to witness the recovery operations. The SpaceX recovery crew was not happy with this and had to chase them away as there is a possibility of toxic propellant fumes from the spacecraft’s thrusters, which can be a potential health hazard. On landing, the thrusters are fired to cushion the landing.
The Landing Process
In the order to prepare for final approach and landing, the crew dragon performed a series of thruster burns to separate itself from the space station and then to line up with the landing zone, before it began its final approach from orbit, the craft jettisoned its bottom half, known as the trunk as it is longer necessary, this exposes the heat shield that protects the capsule and astronauts during re-entry.
The second thruster burn which lasted 11 minutes was completed after 2 p.m. Eastern Time, this will allow the Crew Dragon to exit the orbit and into the Earth’s atmosphere, towards the landing site. After a few more intricate maneuvers, the Crew Dragon finally landed in the Gulf of Mexico.
A Spacecraft doesn’t necessarily have to land on the water every time, it can land both on land and on water, NASA mostly prefers water landing, while the Russian spacecrafts like the Soyuz does ground landings, so does the Chinese Shenzhou capsules. SpaceX had initially planned for the Crew Dragon to do a ground landing, but then the company decided to perform water landings, the earlier versions of the Dragon used for cargo transportations landed on the water, this simplified the development of the capsule.
This mission originally was planned to last only two weeks, but the astronauts ended up with a longer and more hectic mission. Because of a few delays by SpaceX and Boeing, Due to this NASA fell short of personnel onboard the space station, only one astronaut, Christopher J. Cassidy was aboard the space station when the Crew Dragon docked.
The astronauts had to stay for two months, Mr. Behnken and Mr. Cassidy performed four exciting spacewalks to complete the installation of new batteries on the space station. Mr. Hurley helped by operating the station’s robotic arms. The purpose of this mission was to conduct science experiments in low earth orbit. The astronauts assisted in a study of water droplet formation in the low gravity environment of space station using a showerhead, and another experiment to study the methods to manage fluids in space. They also helped to install new equipment inside the station.
With the entry of private players into the realm of space exploration, the possibility of civilian space flight and space tourism will be a reality in the coming years. It’s not just SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are developing spacecraft of their own, maybe one day a person can book a ticket on the Virgin Galactic spacecraft and do a round trip to a Space hotel and back.