SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying four astronauts from the International Space Station made a splashdown in the darkness, making it the first US crew splashdown in darkness since the Apollo 8 moon mission in 1968.
After a six-and-a-half-hour flight from the ISS, Crew Dragon splashed down at 2:56 am (06:56 GMT) into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida.
?Destination: Panama City, Florida
At 2:56am ET (06:56 UT) , @NASA_Astronauts @AstroVicGlover, @Astro_illini and Shannon Walker along with @Astro_Soichi of @JAXA_en touchdown on Earth after a six-month science mission aboard the @Space_Station. pic.twitter.com/02Qw0BsrNc
— NASA (@NASA) May 2, 2021
The astronauts were to return to Earth last Wednesday but high offshore winds forced SpaceX to change the schedule. It was decided to make a splashdown in darkness to take advantage of the calm weather. Infrared cameras tracked the capsule as it re-entered the atmosphere. The capsule resembled a bright star streaking through the night sky.
After it entered the earth’s atmosphere, the 13-foot-wide fully autonomous capsule’s four parachutes opened up to slow down its descent. Recovery ships equipped with bright spotlights were waiting to haul the Crew Dragon out of the ocean. They had to make a quick move because the bobbing waves can cause severe seasickness for the astronauts. Within half an hour of splashdown, the charred capsule was hoisted onto the recovery ship. As it descends the spacecraft becomes extremely hot due to the friction of air molecules. It will not affect the astronauts inside as a thick heat shield is there to protect them.
The astronauts – NASA’s Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, flew back in the same capsule (Resilience) in which they were launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in November.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft was named “Resilience” before its launch in November. The Crew-1 team named the capsule “Resilience,” in honor of the NASA and SpaceX teams that worked through a pandemic, the global public going through a pandemic period, as well as a widespread reckoning over racial injustices in the months prior to the Crew-1 launch.
The capsule, Resilience, will be taken back to Cape Canaveral for refurbishment for SpaceX’s first private crew mission scheduled in September.
This mission has many first to its credit. The 167-day mission by NASA and SpaceX was the longest mission in recent times. (The previous record for 84 days was set by NASA’s final Skylab station astronauts in 1974.) This was the first time a spacecraft was launched to the ISS from US soil since the end of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011. (After the end of the Space Shuttle programme NASA was forced to depend on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get its astronauts to the ISS.) It was in this mission that an American-built spacecraft was launched from the US. This was also the first crewed mission run by a private company.
Seven astronauts remain on the International Space Station. This includes four astronauts who reached ISS last week on another SpaceX craft.