The two American astronauts participated in the first private manned flight and left for the ISS on May 30. They landed on Sunday night in the Gulf of Mexico.
Two US astronauts from the International Space Station landed on Sunday evening in the Gulf of Mexico aboard a SpaceX capsule, crowning the success of the space company’s first demonstration mission for NASA. In less than an hour, aboard SpaceX’s Dragon, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley went from a speed of 28,000 km / h in orbit to a speed of 24 km / h at the time of the landing, four large parachutes having opened as expected after the scorching atmospheric re-entry. They landed off Pensacola in the Gulf of Mexico, a site chosen to avoid a tropical storm in the area.
“Welcome to Earth, and thank you for flying on SpaceX,” the flight director announced to the astronauts, who are fine and responded. “It was an honor and a privilege,” said Doug Hurley. The successful round trip to the International Space Station (ISS) puts an end to the Russian monopoly on access to the ISS since the Americans parked their space shuttles in July 2011. NASA will use the Dragon capsule from the order of twice a year to send four astronauts at a time, including non-Americans, a Japanese and the European Thomas Pesquet being planned for the next missions.
The mission may seem like a modest step in space exploration: “Bob” and “Doug” did not go to the Moon or to Mars, only to the old space station, 400 km from Earth, where Russians and Americans and others come and go since 1998. NASA, however, sees it as a “revolution”, because SpaceX will give the United States back access to space, less expensive than its previous programs. For three billion granted since 2011 under a fixed price contract, SpaceX has fully developed a new space taxi and promised six round trips to the ISS. Previously, the space agency ordered a specific vehicle from industry giants, and assumed all budget overruns.
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In doing so, the ex-start-up beat Boeing, whose Starliner capsule, developed for the same purpose, missed an empty test flight last year and won’t be ready until 2021 at the earliest.
On May 30, the company of Elon Musk, also boss of Tesla electric vehicles, had achieved a first feat by transporting Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the orbital laboratory, doing for humans what it has done regularly for the cargo since 2012. Donald Trump had attended the takeoff in person from Florida, and he had applauded the boss of SpaceX. “Today’s launch demonstrates that the future belongs to the private space industry,” the US president said.
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After two months in the ISS, and several spacewalks, the two men bid farewell to the three other Russian and American crew members on Saturday, and left the station without a hitch around 11:34 GMT (1:34 in France) . They spent the night on board, without incident, then donned their space suits for the atmospheric reentry and the end of the journey, the most perilous phase of the mission.
The US space agency had decided to maintain their return despite tropical storm Isaias, which brought strong winds and heavy rain to the east coast of Florida. It only gave up the first site considered, located on the more exposed Atlantic coast. A SpaceX ship, GO Navigator, is in the area and must pick up the crew, who will immediately undergo medical examinations before being returned to dry land.
The Dragon Crew capsule will be transported to a SpaceX site in Florida for a six-week inspection to verify that it can again serve as a space taxi, in this case for the spring 2021 mission with Thomas Pesquet on board.