Wed | Aug 5, 2020

SpaceX guiding NASA astronauts to 1st splashdown in 45 years

Published:Sunday | August 2, 2020 | 10:47 AM
In this image from video made available by NASA, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule separates from the International Space Station on Saturday, August 1, 2020. (NASA via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) — The first astronauts to ride a SpaceX capsule into orbit headed toward a retro-style splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday afternoon to close out a two-month test flight.

It will mark the first splashdown in 45 years for NASA astronauts and the first return in the gulf.

Unlike Florida’s Atlantic coast, already feeling the effects of Tropical Storm Isaias, the waves and wind were calm near Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle.

Test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken departed the International Space Station on Saturday night, and awoke to a recording of their young children urging them to “rise and shine” and “we can’t wait to see you.”

“Don’t worry, you can sleep in tomorrow,” said Behnken’s 6-year-old son Theo, who was promised a puppy after the flight. “Hurry home so we can go get my dog.”

Their atypical ride home by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company — the first commercially built and operated spacecraft to carry people to and from orbit — was expected to be fast, bumpy and hot, at least on the outside.

The Dragon capsule, named Endeavour by its crew, was to go from a screaming orbital speed of 17,500 miles per hour to 350 miles per hour during re-entry in the atmosphere and finally to 15 miles per hour at splashdown.

Peak heating during descent: 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,900 degrees Celsius). Top G forces: four to five times the force of Earth’s gravity.

A SpaceX recovery ship with more than 40 staff, including doctors and nurses, was poised to move in at splashdown, with two smaller, faster boats leading the way. 

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