NASA's SpaceX Crew-1 Mission Splashes Down

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NASA 02 May, 2021 - 12:56am 26 views

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After six months in space, the Crew-1 Dragon spacecraft Resilience will undock from the International Space Station at 8:35 p.m. EDT (0035 GMT) to make way for a planned splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Florida, on Sunday (May 2) at 2:57 a.m. EDT (0657 GMT). Space.comWatch live: SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts to depart space station

Crew-1, which launched to the space station in November, will head home in the capsule called Resilience.

Four astronauts are taking the redeye home to Earth.

At 8:35 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday, a crew of four — three NASA astronauts and one from Japan’s space agency — pushed off from the International Space Station in a capsule built by SpaceX.

“Thanks for your hospitality, sorry we stayed a little bit longer,” said Michael Hopkins, the Crew Dragon Resilience’s commander, referring to the weather-delayed departure of the flight. “We’ll see you back on Earth.”

The astronauts will circle the planet a number of times over the hours that follow until they splash down early on Sunday morning in the Gulf of Mexico south of Panama City, Fla.

NASA has not conducted a nighttime splash down like this since 1968, when Apollo 8, the first mission to send astronauts around the moon, returned to Earth.

The approximate timing of the splash down is 2:57 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday. SpaceX in an update on Saturday afternoon reported that the weather continued to be favorable for a landing.

The agency has scheduled a news conference with NASA, SpaceX and other officials for 5 a.m. on Sunday.

NASA and SpaceX are streaming live coverage of these operations on NASA TV or you can watch the video in the player embedded above.

SpaceX confirmed that the thruster firings were completed at 10:17 p.m. The capsule will now circle the plant until Florida lines up in the correct position for it to splash down in the Gulf of Mexico.

Just before 2 a.m., as it prepares for its return to Earth, the Crew Dragon will jettison what SpaceX calls the “trunk” section of the spacecraft — the cylindrical compartment below the gumpdrop-shaped capsule. The trunk will burn up in the atmosphere.

Five minutes after the trunk is detached, the capsule will fire its thrusters to drop out of orbit.

Once it is low enough in Earth’s atmosphere, parachutes will deploy to gently lower the capsule into the sea.

Spacecraft can safely return to Earth on water or land.

During the 1960s and 1970s, NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules all splashed down in the ocean while Soviet capsules all ended their trips on land. Russia’s current Soyuz capsules continue to make ground landings, as do China’s astronaut-carrying Shenzhou capsules.

NASA returned to water landings on Aug. 2, 2020, when the first crew returning to Earth in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule — the same one that carried astronauts to the space station last week — splashed down near Pensacola, Fla.

Returning from the free-fall environment of orbit to the normal forces of gravity on Earth is often disorienting for astronauts. A water landing adds the possibility of seasickness.

During a news conference last year, Douglas Hurley, a member of the earlier crew that completed a water landing in the SpaceX capsule, said he had read reports by astronauts from NASA’s Skylab missions, some of the last before him to do water landings. “There was some challenges post-splashdown,” he said. “Folks didn’t feel well, and you know, that is the way it is with a water landing, even if you’re not deconditioned like we’re going to be.”

Mr. Hurley acknowledged that vomiting would not be unexpected.

“There are bags if you need them, and we’ll have those handy,” he said. He added that “if that needs to happen, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that that’s happened in a space vehicle.”

American spacecraft have not carried out a nighttime water landing by astronauts since Apollo 8, NASA says.

That crew arrived before dawn on Dec. 27, 1968, about 1,000 miles southwest of Hawaii. The Times the next day called it “a pinpoint splashdown” and noted that the crew stayed in their capsule for about 90 minutes before they were fished out of the Pacific Ocean by a helicopter team from the U.S.S. Yorktown. William Anders, the mission’s lunar module pilot, said over the radio while in the capsule, “Get us out of here, I’m not the sailor on this boat.” (James Lovell, his crew mate, had been a captain in the U.S. Navy.)

SpaceX has rehearsed working at night, and in January it successfully recovered a cargo capsule that splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, west of Tampa Bay.

One advantage of a nighttime landing could be that fewer private boats are likely to be around. That was a problem in August when the earlier SpaceX capsule splashed down. More than a dozen boats — one of them flying a Trump campaign flag — converged on the singed capsule, and a few went in for a closer look.

The episode raised concerns among NASA and SpaceX officials about security and safety procedures. If there had been an emergency, NASA officials said, the private boats might have impeded recovery efforts. They added that there could have been poisonous fumes from the capsule that posed a risk to the boaters.

To avert such an outcome, the Coast Guard this time will set up a 11.5-mile safety zone around splashdown site and chase away any interlopers.

Typically, the risk of space junk hitting a spacecraft going to or from the space station is small. It is generally a pretty short trip — about a day — and a spacecraft like Crew Dragon is pretty small, so it’s not a big target for a wayward piece of debris.

But when another group of astronauts, Crew-2, launched last week in a different Crew Dragon, they had a bit of a scare when mission control at SpaceX headquarters in California told them that there was a piece of debris headed their way. They put their spacesuits back on and got back in their seats just in case the spacecraft was hit, which could cause depressurization of the capsule.

Mission control then provided a reassuring update: Further analysis indicated the closest approach of the space debris was not that close after all. Still, as a precaution, the astronauts waited until they were told that the space junk had passed by.

The next day, a NASA spokesman said the debris had passed by at a distance of 28 miles — not very close at all.

Then, the United States Space Command, which tracks orbiting debris, made a more perplexing update: The piece of debris that supposedly passed by the Crew Dragon never existed at all. A Space Command spokeswoman said a review was underway to determine what caused the spurious warning.

There are four astronauts on Crew-1:

Victor Glover, 45, selected by NASA in 2013 to be an astronaut, is on his first spaceflight. He is also the first Black NASA astronaut to be a member of a space station crew.

Michael S. Hopkins, 52, a colonel in the United States Space Force, is the commander for the flight. (Colonel Hopkins is also the first member of the newly created U.S. Space Force to go to space.) He was one of nine astronauts selected by NASA in 2009. He has made one previous trip to the International Space Station, in 2013-14, spending 166 days in orbit.

Soichi Noguchi, 56, an astronaut with JAXA, the Japanese space agency, is completing his third trip to space. He was a member of the crew of the space shuttle Discovery in 2005, on the first shuttle launch after the loss of Columbia and its seven astronauts more than two years earlier.

During that visit to the International Space Station, Mr. Noguchi made three spacewalks. That included one to test techniques developed to repair damage to the heat tiles on the shuttle similar to what had doomed Columbia when it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. In 2009-10, he spent five months in orbit as a member of the space station crew.

Shannon Walker, 55, has had one previous stint on the space station, in 2010. Dr. Walker has a doctoral degree in space physics from Rice University, where she studied how the solar wind interacted with the atmosphere of Venus.

The space station has been a bit more crowded than usual since another SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, Endeavour, docked on Saturday, April 24. That brought the station’s crew tally to 11, the largest number of astronauts on board since the space shuttles stopped flying (the record for most on board is 13). The four astronauts are leaving seven astronauts behind — three from NASA, two from the Russian space agency Roscosmos, one from the European Space Agency and one from JAXA.

But while they were there, they conducted science experiments including tissue chips that mimic human organs and grew radishes and other vegetables. They also performed spacewalks to install equipment on the outside of the space station, including to prepare it for new solar panels.

And just before they left, Mr. Glover celebrated his 45th birthday in orbit.

Other astronauts were also savoring their final moments in orbit with images posted on Twitter.

If the landing is similar to the return last August, SpaceX personnel will go to the capsule, check that it is intact and not leaking any toxic propellant and recover the parachutes.

A larger recovery ship will pull the capsule out of the water. The hatch is then opened for the four astronauts to get out.

After medical checks, the astronauts will head to shore. From there, they will fly to Houston. The capsule will be taken to Cape Canaveral, where it will be refurbished for another flight to space.

Read full article at NASA

SpaceX Dragon capsule heads home from International Space Station with four astronauts on board

Daily Mail 02 May, 2021 - 02:00am

By Associated Press and Wires

A SpaceX capsule carrying four astronauts departed the International Space Station late Saturday, aiming for a rare nighttime splashdown to end the company's second crew flight.

It will be the first U.S. splashdown in darkness since Apollo 8's crew returned from the moon in 1968.

NASA´s Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan´s Soichi Noguchi, headed home in the same Dragon capsule that delivered them to the space station last November. 

The Crew Dragon capsule undocked from the ISS as scheduled at 8:35pm ET. 

With the flight back to Earth expected to take six-and-a-half hours, the crew is scheduled to splash down in the dark of night off Panama City, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:57am ET.  

'Thanks for your hospitality,' Hopkins radioed as the capsule undocked 260 miles above Mali.

The capsule fired a series of short bursts with its thrusters to gently ease away from the ISS.

NASA livestream footage showed the Crew Dragon capsule moving off into the dark as it began its journey back to Earth, its rear engines lighting up in small flashes.

The SpaceX capsule departs the International Space Station carrying four astronauts aiming for a rare nighttime splashdown to end the company's second crew flight

SpaceX astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi were heading back to Earth on Saturday night

NASA and SpaceX have alternative landing sites ready, aside from Panama City, if necessary.

SpaceX boats are expected to reach the capsule about 10 minutes after splashdown. 

Despite the early hour of the scheduled splashdown, the Coast Guard has deployed extra patrols - and spotlights - to keep any night-owl sightseers away. 

The capsule of the first SpaceX crew was surrounded by pleasure boaters last summer, posing a safety risk.

Astronauts Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi went to space last November as the crew on the first fully operational mission to the ISS aboard a vehicle made by Elon Musk's SpaceX, which has become NASA's favored commercial transportation partner.

Prior to that, two American astronauts made a test mission to the ISS in May and stayed for two months.

That was the first launch to the ISS from US soil since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. It was also the first crewed mission run by a private company, as opposed to NASA.

Until then US astronauts had caught rides to the ISS aboard Russian spacecraft.

Elon Musk's SpaceX has become NASA's favored commercial transportation partner

Replacements for Hopkins' crew arrived a week ago aboard their own Dragon capsule - the same one that launched SpaceX´s first crew last spring

This photo combination provided by NASA shows from left, Expedition 64 Flight Engineers and SpaceX Crew-1 members Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi

Replacements for Hopkins' crew arrived a week ago aboard their own Dragon capsule - the same one that launched SpaceX´s first crew last spring.

The four should have been back by now, but high offshore wind kept them at the space station a few extra days. SpaceX and NASA determined the best weather would be before dawn.

The delays allowed Glover to celebrate his 45th birthday in space Friday.

'Gratitude, wonder, connection. I´m full of and motivated by these feelings on my birthday, as my first mission to space comes to an end,' Glover tweeted.

Saturday night´s undocking left seven astronauts at the space station: three Americans, two Russians, one Japanese and one French.

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Live updates: SpaceX Crew-1 NASA astronauts headed home after six-month stay on International Space Station

The Washington Post 02 May, 2021 - 02:00am

The autonomous spacecraft pulled away from the station on time, at 8:35 p.m. Eastern, for what’s expected to be a six-and-a-half-hour journey to Earth. The spacecraft was over the country of Mali when it separated from the space station. The primary landing zone is in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida near Panama City.

Less than an hour before splashdown, the spacecraft will fire its Draco engines in what’s known as a deorbit burn that will plunge it into the atmosphere. Given the immense speed of the spacecraft, it is expected to generate temperatures as high as 3,500 degrees as it streaks back toward Earth like a shooting star. Then the Dragon will deploy its drogue parachutes before the four main chutes open and guide it to a soft landing in the water.

The splashdown was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but high winds in the recovery area forced NASA to postpone it. The weather for early Sunday looks good, officials said.

“I got some pictures today from the recovery ship, and the water looks just like glass,” said Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager. “We’re putting the crew and the vehicle down in very benign winds and very benign waves.”

The burn will put the spacecraft in a position to precisely land in the Gulf of Mexico, just south of Panama City. Meanwhile, the recovery ship has moved into place, getting ready to pick up the capsule.

In December, he became the first-ever U.S. Space Force officer assigned as an astronaut when he transferred from the Air Force while aboard the International Space Station.

Shannon Walker began her career at NASA in 1987 as a robotics flight controller for the space shuttle program. She was selected for the astronaut corps in 2004. She flew to the space station on the Russian Soyuz in 2010. She is married to fellow NASA astronaut Andy Thomas.

Victor Glover is the rookie of the group. He had never flown to space before this mission. A Navy commander, he is a test pilot who has flown the F/A 18 Hornet. He has four daughters and became the first African American astronaut ever to live aboard the space station.

Soichi Noguchi is a veteran Japanese astronaut who has flown on the space shuttle and the Russian Soyuz in addition to Crew Dragon. While onboard the station this time, he took a lot of stunning photographs of Earth that he posted to his Twitter account, including one of the Pyramids.

But coming home and adjusting to gravity can be rough. Returning astronauts sometimes have a difficult time staying upright after landing, while their bodies, and minds, get used to the pull of gravity again.

In an interview with The Post a couple of years ago, former NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus said it was one of the most difficult transitions.

“Gravity sucks. It’s horrible,” she said. “We adapt to this whole new environment . . . and then we come back and it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh. What the heck is this? I can’t believe we live in this all the time.’ I mean it’s just horrid. It’s this huge force that’s just pressing down on us every day.”

Mike Massimino, another former NASA astronaut, recalled how in space he would just let go of items instead of putting them down because they’d just float there next to him. On Earth, of course, they’d just come crashing down. And many astronauts, home just a day or two from space, have let coffee cups go, thinking they would just remain floating next to them, only to have them fall and shatter on the ground.

“It was probably my third day back, and I was taking groceries out of the minivan, and I wasn’t sure where to put them,” he said. “I had all these plastic bags from Kroger’s and I had to get them out of the car and into the house. So I thought, why don’t I just float this one here? And I just dropped it, thinking it was going to float.”

Since then, they have doubled that record, staying onboard the International Space Station for 168 days.

The record set by the Skylab crew “is really pretty significant when you think about how long it stood,” NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins recently told reporters in a briefing from the space station. “I don’t anticipate that our record is going to last that long. And that’s a good thing.”

High winds that kick up the seas and create big waves can create a dangerous situation, not just for the astronauts in the spacecraft but for the recovery teams as well. But on Sunday, the winds are expected to be very light and the sea as smooth as glass, creating “very benign waves,” Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, said during a broadcast of the return.

The darkness also shouldn’t be a problem, officials said.

“The vehicle is certified to land in day or night," Stich said. "There’s really not an issue with the vehicle itself and the recovery. We have been practicing recovering the crews in day or night.”

The skies would be generally clear, he said, so “we’ll have quite a bit of moonlight.” And the recovery ships are outfitted with lights as well, he said.

The spacecraft was still full of highly volatile propellants, presenting a danger to the people in the boats around it. And NASA and the Coast Guard admitted at the time that in the future, they would have to do a much better job of keeping want-to-be gawkers at bay.

“It’s a big area we have to clear, and it’s probably going to take more resources,” former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said at the time. “We need to do a better job next time for sure.”

That next time has arrived, and officials say they have worked hard to make sure the area will be clear, so that rescue crews can recover the spacecraft and hoist it on to the back of a ship that would then ferry it to shore. It will no doubt help that the landing time in the middle of the night is not normally when pleasure boaters are plying the waters.

“I know NASA and the Coast Guard and SpaceX, everybody involved, is very aware of the boats that were around, and so that is certainly getting a lot of emphasis,” NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins recently said in a briefing with reporters from the International Space Station. “I’m sure there’s going to be more resources in terms of making sure people and the boats stay away from the landing zone.”

He said there wasn’t much of a concern about the spacecraft landing on one of the boats, but rather about the fuel that’s loaded inside the spacecraft. The primary landing zone is off Panama City, Fla.

“It’s the danger for them that we really need to be aware of,” he said. “And so that’s why it’s very important for them to stay away at a safe distance and allow the recovery teams to do their jobs.”

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SpaceX making 1st US crew splashdown in dark since Apollo 8

WFLA 01 May, 2021 - 07:25pm

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — SpaceX this weekend will attempt the first U.S. splashdown of returning astronauts in darkness since the Apollo 8 moonshot in 1968.

Elon Musk’s company is targeting the predawn hours of Sunday to bring back three NASA astronauts and one from Japan, after dangerously high wind scuttled a pair of earlier attempts.

The astronauts — only the second crew to fly SpaceX — will depart the International Space Station on Saturday night aboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule that carried them up last November. They’ll aim for a splashdown 6 1/2 hours later, around 3 a.m. in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida.

SpaceX brought back a station cargo capsule with a splashdown in darkness in January. That adds to NASA’s confidence for a nighttime homecoming, said Rob Navias, a spokesman at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“SpaceX has done numerous dress rehearsals and spent a lot of time with nighttime recoveries,” he said.

Navias said the time slot provided the best weather conditions in the coming days.

The capsule carrying Apollo 8’s three astronauts — the first men to fly to the moon — splashed into the Pacific near Hawaii before dawn on Dec. 27, 1968.

The Russians also had one crew splashdown in darkness, back in 1976. The two-man capsule could not dock to the Soviet Union’s Salyut 5 space station as intended and had to make a hasty return, ending up in a partially frozen lake in Kazakhstan — in the middle of a blizzard. It took hours for recovery teams to rescue the cosmonauts.

Even with the early hour, the Coast Guard promises to have more patrols to keep sightseers at a safe distance. On a Sunday afternoon last August, pleasure boaters swarmed the capsule that parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico with the first SpaceX crew.

The departure of NASA’s Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi will leave seven aboard the space station. Their replacements — representing the U.S., Japan and France — arrived last weekend in their own SpaceX capsule for a six-month mission. The three remaining crew members — one American and two Russians — launched in a Russian capsule from Kazakhstan three weeks ago.

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