Space

Manned SpaceX Capsule Returns From Orbit Without a Hitch

Two American astronauts splashed down to Earth after over 60 days aboard the International Space Station

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"Thanks for flying SpaceX," announced SpaceX engineer Michael Heiman as the company's Crew Dragon capsule careened into the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday afternoon. American astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley parachuted into the sea off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, after spending two months in orbit around the earth.

The splashdown concluded NASA's Demo-2 demonstration flight with SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk. The flight began on May 30, when the astronauts were launched by SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Demo-2 mission was intended to showcase SpaceX's readiness for manned space flight. "I think we're surprised—minorly surprised, but obviously incredibly pleased—that this went as smoothly as it did," said Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell.

The SpaceX trip marks a historic milestone as the first splashdown since the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project with the Soviet Union returned to the earth in 1975. (A splashdown is a method of landing a spacecraft by parachuting into a body of water.)

The Demo-2 flight is also the first trip to space from American soil since NASA's last space shuttle mission in 2011. Since then, NASA has relied on Russia for access to the space station, which was a pricey arrangement. The cost per seat rose from $21 million in 2008 to almost $90 million for a planned mission this October. 

The successful return of the Crew Dragon spacecraft could reduce America's dependence on Russia to carry out research in space (a seat on the Crew Dragon will cost just $55 million) and bodes well for the future of private space travel. SpaceX expects to launch its next crewed mission, Crew-1, "no earlier than late-September," according to a NASA press release in July.

That mission will carry four astronauts for a six-month stay at the ISS. It will be the first of at least six trips under SpaceX's $2.6 billion contract with NASA. Boeing, which was awarded $4.2 billion by the space agency, will perform another unmanned test of its CST-100 Starliner system. Its first trial earlier this year revealed serious software errors. Other private companies to receive NASA contracts include Alabama-based Dynetics and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin.

NASA is embracing these public-private partnerships' enormous cost-saving potential. "This is the next era in human spaceflight, where NASA gets to be the customer," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine just before the capsule landed. "We want to be a strong customer, we want to be a great partner. But we don't want to be the only ones that are operating with humans in space."

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  1. noooo that’s the capsule with the unstoppable alien in it!

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  2. I’m shocked that a magazine with KMW as the Managing Editor didn’t have an article on this out yesterday!

  3. “It will be the first of at least six trips under SpaceX’s $2.6 billion contract with NASA. Boeing, which was awarded $4.2 billion by the space agency, will perform another unmanned test of its CST-100 Starliner system. Its first trial earlier this year revealed serious software errors.”

    Time to defund Boeing. More money and less progress than the plucky upstart Space X..

    1. exponential risk pay to board a Boeing spacecraft.

    2. “Time to defund Boeing. More money and less progress than the plucky upstart Space X..”

      Not sure how this is funded, but competition tends to focus the mind.

  4. So all of its hitches were left in orbit. NASA wouldn’t have let that happen.

  5. Congrats on repeating an accomplishment from the 1960s. I don’t demean what you’ve done since the US should be a leader. But let’s place this in perspective that no human has been outside low earth orbit for nearly 50 years. Don’t just repeat the moon shot either make a play for Mars or something significant.

    1. I’d be more impressed with Bigelow tourist hotels in orbit.

    2. Speaking of furthering space travel. Evidently a fungus has been found growing around Chernobyl that absorbs/feeds off gamma radiation. A potential material for lining spacecraft from radiation, one of the largest barriers to safe space travel.

      1. Ha! Wow. Sounds like something Peter F. Hamilton or the game Stellaris would cook up.

        Life might be shit down here in corona-world, but for quantum technology, bio-tech and space exploration enthusiasts like myself, it is an amazing time to be alive. I agree with Musk that people have basically become cyborgs with the rapid advance of smartphone capabilities, information storage and collation, and ubiquitous wireless high-speed data transmission.

        I will admit here that I cheered when the drogue chutes deployed, again when the main chutes deployed, and tears welled in my eyes as I clapped and hollered when they splashed down and were finally extracted.

        The contrast between the ridiculously complex, costly and wasteful nature of NASA projects from the 70’s to 2011 and the incredible accomplishments in savings and efficiency of SpaceX give me this feeling of irresistible joy and optimism.

        Mars, here we come!

    3. no human has been outside low earth orbit for nearly 50 years.

      That’s the most depressing part. Since the moon missions ended we haven’t technically left the Earth’s atmosphere.

  6. (A splashdown is a method of landing a spacecraft by parachuting into a body of water.)

    I guess it’s necessary, but having to explain that makes the 12-year-old me weep.

    1. Welcome to the future. Everyone is ignorant now.

    2. I didn’t mind it. I hadn’t known that it had been so long since a spashdown.

  7. Trump isn’t even mentioned once in this article… I kept reading waiting for the part about Trump. wtf you call this journalism ?

    1. Spooky.

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