NASA had not launched astronauts from American soil since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011. Nearly a decade later SpaceX launched astronauts from the United States -igniting a new era in human spaceflight. In 2020 the aerospace company conducted the first operational mission, known as Crew-1, under the agency’s Commercial Crew Program that aims to make launching astronauts to space from American soil routine. The Crew-1 mission was a success thanks to SpaceX. Crew-1 NASA Astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched to the International Space Station (ISS) atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket aboard the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft in November 15, 2020 from historic Launch Complex-39A at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. After a six-month-long stay at the Space Station, Crew-1 astronauts completed their mission with a safe return aboard Resilience this weekend.
On Saturday, May 1st, the astronauts departed the orbiting laboratory as Crew Dragon Resilience autonomously undocked from the ISS Harmony module at 8:35 p.m. EDT. Crew-1 astronauts’ journey back to Earth took around six-and-a-half-hours. The spacecraft reentered our home planet’s rough atmosphere at traveling at orbital velocity, moving at approximately 17,500 miles per hour. As it reentered the atmosphere it experienced extremely hot temperatures of around 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, the spacecraft carrying the four brave astronauts performed a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Panama City, Florida, on Sunday, May 2nd at 2:56 a.m. EDT. The astronauts are the first U.S. crew to make a nighttime splashdown since NASA's 1968 Apollo 8 mission that orbited the moon. “It really could not have been a more flawless journey home for Crew Dragon Resilience,” NASA public affairs officer Leah Cheshier said on the agency’s mission broadcast.
“We’re continuing to hear good news after good news.”— NASA (@NASA) May 2, 2021
🪂 The four main parachutes have deployed, slowing the crew’s capsule down for arrival off the coast of Panama City, Florida. pic.twitter.com/ZC9pab0y2d
"Dragon, on behalf of NASA and SpaceX teams, we welcome you back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX. For those of you enrolled in our frequent flier program, you've earned 68 million miles on this voyage," a SpaceX crew operations representative told the Crew-1 astronauts after splashdown. "It is good to be back on planet Earth," replied NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, commander of the Crew-1 mission. "We'll take those miles. Are they transferable?" he joked.
Resilience returned from space filled with scorch marks from reentering Earth’s rough atmosphere at high speeds. Recovery teams quickly navigated the ocean to recover the spacecraft with the astronauts aboard. They were rapidly picked up within about 30-minutes from the ocean by a ship called ‘Go Navigator’ that is equipped with a crane, as seen in the video below.
🐉 @SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft and its four Crew-1 astronauts are being placed safely inside the Dragon's nest aboard the Go Navigator recovery ship. Up next ➡️ the crew exits the spacecraft. pic.twitter.com/5GEVNWu3VP— NASA (@NASA) May 2, 2021
The hatch of @SpaceX’s Dragon Resilience spacecraft is open!— NASA (@NASA) May 2, 2021
🌎💙 Shortly, @NASA_Astronauts @AstroVicGlover, @Astro_illini and Shannon Walker along with @Astro_Soichi of @JAXA_en will take their first breaths of fresh air back on planet Earth. pic.twitter.com/TUKWQdTLsX
The crew safely returned to shore with the help from NASA, SpaceX, and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). “What a ride! Thanks to the NASA, SpaceX, and USCG teams for a safe and successful journey back to Earth. Another step closer to family and home!” Astronaut Glover, Crew-1 Pilot, said with excitement. “On behalf of Crew-1 and our families, we just want to say thank you...It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together. Y’all are changing the world. Congratulations. It’s great to be back,” Astronaut Hopkins said.
“On behalf of Crew-1 and our families, we just want to say thank you...It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together. Y’all are changing the world. Congratulations. It’s great to be back.” – NASA Astronaut Mike Hopkins (@Astro_illini) pic.twitter.com/6Bxpwp79ly— NASA (@NASA) May 2, 2021
Soon after, the astronauts boarded helicopters to the mainland en route to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. “It's not very often you get to wake up on the space station and go to sleep in Houston, and so we've been talking about that in the control center,” said NASA's Chief Flight Director Holly Ridings after splashdown. “You know, orbital mechanics and the weather doesn't always work out but today they did, and so that's pretty remarkable.” NASA says Crew-1 is the ‘longest-duration mission of a crewed American spacecraft to date,' returning after 167 days.
“Welcome home Victor, Michael, Shannon, and Soichi, and congratulations to the teams at NASA and SpaceX who worked so hard to ensure their safe and successful splashdown,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, who was confirmed by the Senate to serve as NASA Administrator on April 29. “We’ve accomplished another incredible spaceflight for America and our commercial and international partners. Safe, reliable transportation to the International Space Station is exactly the vision that NASA had when the agency embarked on the commercial crew program.”
Featured Image Source: NASA