NEW YORK: SpaceX discovered unexpected damage to part of its Crew Dragon space capsule after the vessel carried its first astronauts this summer. The Demo-2 mission flew NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station on May 30. The two men stayed there for two months, then weathered a fiery fall through Earth’s atmosphere to splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.
But after the company recovered and studied the toasted space capsule up-close, examiners spotted something unusual: deep erosion on Crew Dragon’s heat shield. That thermal protection system is a collection of heat-resistant tiles that line the spaceship’s vulnerable underbelly. It protects Crew Dragon by deflecting and absorbing heat that can reach 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit while the space capsule plummets through the atmosphere and creates superheated plasma on its return to Earth. SpaceX expected to find some wear and tear, but not quite this much.