SpaceX Crew Returns Home

Posted by on Aug 12, 2020 in Current Events

On Sunday, August 2, 2020, the crew of SpaceX returned safely from their trip to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA astronauts Robert Behnken (50 years old) and Douglas Hurley (53 years old) spent 64 days in space before landing safely in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. Here, btw takes a closer look at this exciting and historic event. 

Why Was This Trip So Important? 

The SpaceX flight was significant because it was the first time that astronauts have been launched from U.S. soil in nine years–and the first time in 45 years that astronauts returned to Earth safely by “splashing down” in the ocean.  

The SpaceX flight was also the first time that a commercially built and operated spacecraft was successfully used to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station–and return them safely. home. SpaceX is a California-based rocket company founded by billionaire Elon Musk. This was the final test flight for SpaceX, providing much-needed data about everything from operations to splashdown. It was also a critical step for NASA to certify SpaceX as part of its Commercial Crew Program. Through this program, NASA works with private companies to develop spacecraft that can take astronauts safely back and forth to and from the ISS. This plan enables NASA’s time and resources to be used for other projects.  

What Was the Flight Like? 

Getting to the ISS took just nineteen hours. During the 64 days that Behnken and Hurley spent in space, they traveled 27,147,284 miles and completed 1,024 orbits around Earth. Meanwhile, they spent more than 100 hours on scientific experiments, participated in several public engagement events, and completed four spacewalks. They also got to make as many prank calls as they wanted using the satellite phone. This was to prove that the phones would be able to contact mission control if the splashdown didn’t go as planned and the astronauts landed somewhere they weren’t supposed to. 

While the spacecraft’s reentry process went as smoothly as possible, both astronauts commented on the physical difficulty of their landing. First, the craft fired rocket thrusters for twelve minutes to slow down the descent as it reached Earth’s atmosphere. The friction and heat caused by traveling through the atmosphere raised the temperature of the craft’s protective heat shield to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. A set of parachutes was then deployed to slow down the craft’s speed even further, causing a tremendous jolt to the passengers. A second set of parachutes further slowed the craft to 15 mph, to enable it to safely splashdown in the Gulf. SpaceX deployed a boat to pick up the spacecraft, and a helicopter to pick up the astronauts. All were returned safely to land. The two astronauts were given a small welcome home ceremony and will share their experiences in a virtual event. 

Dig Deeper If Behnken and Hurley traveled 27,147,284 miles in 64 days aboard the ISS, roughly how fast was the ISS traveling?