SpaceX capsule brings astronauts home
SpaceX’s third long-term astronaut team launched to the International Space Station has crashed into the Gulf of Mexico to end months of research ranging from space-grown peppers to robots.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying three US NASA astronauts and a European Space Agency crew member from Germany was dropped into calm seas early Friday morning after more than 23 hours of autonomous flight from the ISS.
The Endurance crew, which entered orbit on Nov. 11, consisted of US spaceflight veteran Tom Marshburn, 61, and three new astronauts — NASA’s Raja Chari, 44, Kayla Barron, 34, and their ESA colleague Matthias. Maurer, 52.
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It was expected to take about an hour for the teams bobbing in the water on landing to hoist the capsule onto the deck of a salvage vessel and open the hatch to let the astronauts out for their first fresh air in nearly six months. †
The return from orbit followed a fiery plunge through Earth’s atmosphere.
Two sets of parachutes flew open over the capsule in the final stage of its descent, slowing the fall to approximately 15 mph before the craft hit the water off the coast of Tampa, Florida.
The newly returned astronauts were officially designated as NASA’s “Commercial Crew 3,” the third full-fledged long-term team of four that SpaceX has flown to the space station under contract to the US space agency.
Founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc who recently struck a deal to buy Twitter, SpaceX will supply the Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules that now fly NASA astronauts into orbit.
The company controls those flights and takes care of landing recovery. At the same time, NASA provides crews and launch facilities at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and manages the operations of the US space station.
California-based SpaceX has launched seven manned spaceflights in the past two years — five for NASA and two for private companies — and dozens of cargo and satellite payload missions since 2012.
Apart from performing routine maintenance in orbit around 400 km above Earth, the astronauts contributed to hundreds of science experiments and technology demonstrations.
Highlights included studies of the genetic expression in space-grown cotton cells, the combustion of gaseous flames in microgravity, and the DNA sequences of bacteria in the station.
Crew members also tested new robotic devices, harvested chili peppers grown in orbit, and conducted space physics and materials science experiments.
Barron and Chari conducted a spacewalk to prepare the station for the next in a series of new lightweight deployable solar panels, which will eventually be used at Gateway’s planned outpost to orbit the moon.
Crew 3’s return comes about a week after they welcomed their replacement team, Crew 4, aboard the space station.