© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands on the launch pad behind the images of crew members on the countdown clock, as closing preparations are made for the Crew 3 mission to the International Space Station on the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canavera
By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) -Four astronauts strapped inside a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule splashed down safely within the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast on Monday, capping a six-month NASA science mission aboard the International Space Station and a daylong flight dwelling.
The Dragon automobile, dubbed Endeavour, parachuted into the ocean as deliberate simply after 10:30 p.m. EST on Monday (0330 GMT Tuesday), following a fiery re-entry descent by Earth’s environment carried dwell by a NASA webcast.
Live thermal video imaging captured a glimpse of the capsule streaking like a meteor by the evening sky over the Gulf minutes earlier than splashdown.
Applause was heard from the flight management middle because the 4 most important parachutes inflated above the capsule because it drifted down towards the Gulf floor, slowing its velocity to about 15 miles per hour (24 kph) earlier than dropping gently into the calm sea.
“Endeavour, on behalf of SpaceX, welcome home to planet Earth,” a voice from the SpaceX flight management middle in suburban Los Angeles was heard telling the crew as a secure splashdown was confirmed.
“It’s great to be back,” one of many astronauts radioed in reply.
Operating autonomously, the spacecraft started its eight-hour return voyage earlier within the day with a 90-minute fly-around of the area station because the crew snapped a sequence of survey pictures of the orbiting outpost, circling the globe some 250 miles (400 km) excessive.
The Crew Dragon then proceeded by a sequence of maneuvers over the course of the day to deliver it nearer to Earth and line up the capsule for its closing nighttime descent.
INTENSE RE-ENTRY HEAT
Propelled by one final ignition of its ahead rocket thrusters for a “de-orbit burn,” the capsule re-entered the environment at about 17,000 miles per hour (27,359 kph) for a free-fall towards the ocean beneath, throughout which crew communications have been misplaced for a number of minutes.
Intense friction generated because the capsule plunges by the environment sends temperatures surrounding the skin of the automobile hovering to three,500 levels Fahrenheit (1,927 levels Celsius). The re-entry friction additionally slows the capsule’s descent earlier than parachutes are deployed.
The astronauts’ flight fits are designed to maintain them cool if the cabin warms up, whereas a warmth defend protects the capsule from incinerating on re-entry.
Recovery vessels have been proven headed towards the water-proof Crew Dragon because it bobbed upright within the water. The astronauts and their capsule have been anticipated to be hoisted out of the ocean inside about an hour, NASA mentioned.
The crew, which spent 199 days in area throughout this mission, was made up of two NASA astronauts – mission commander Shane Kimbrough, 54, and pilot Megan McArthur, 50 – together with Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, 52, and fellow mission specialist Thomas Pesquet, 43, a French engineer from the European Space Agency.
They have been lofted to orbit atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off on April 23 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It was the third crew launched into orbit below NASA’s fledgling public-private partnership with SpaceX, the rocket firm fashioned in 2002 by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, who additionally based electrical automobile maker Tesla (NASDAQ:) Inc.
The returning group was designated “Crew 2” as a result of it marks the second “operational” area station group that NASA has launched aboard a SpaceX capsule since resuming human spaceflights from American soil final yr, after a nine-year hiatus on the finish of the U.S. area shuttle program in 2011.
The alternative group, “Crew 3,” was initially slated to fly to the area station on the finish of October, however that launch has been delayed by climate issues and an unspecified medical problem involving one of many 4 crew members.
One irregularity confronting the returning Crew 2 was a plumbing leak aboard the capsule that put the spacecraft’s rest room out of order, requiring the astronauts to alleviate themselves of their spacesuit undergarments if nature known as in the course of the flight dwelling, in keeping with NASA.