SpaceX commercial crew returns to Earth with Atlantic Ocean splash

The first all-commercial, non-governmental crew to visit the International Space Station plunged to Earth on Monday, descending through the heartland of America to a picture-perfect plunge off the coast of Florida to cap off a long, brand new mission.

Descending under four outstretched parachutes, the Crew Dragon “Endeavour”, carrying Commander Michael López-Alegría, Ohio property manager Larry Connor, Canadian philanthropist Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe, the second Israeli in space, descended landed with a splash at 1:07 p.m. EDT to conclude a 17-day mission.

SpaceX Private Crew Return
In this image from infrared video provided by SpaceX, the Dragon space capsule uses parachutes during its descent into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida on Monday, April 25, 2022.

SpaceX via/AP


SpaceX crews deployed nearby quickly reached the gently oscillating capsule to make initial contact with the returning station pilots as a recovery ship moved in to pull the spacecraft aboard. Within an hour, the four crew members had been helped out of the spacecraft, looking a little wobbly but otherwise in good shape as they readjusted to gravity after more than two weeks in zero gravity.

“The crew is doing very well, is in good spirits,” said Derek Hassmann, director of operations and training for Axiom Space, the company that funded the mission. “We had two Axiom flight surgeons on the SpaceX recovery ship in the Atlantic and (they) did a quick medical assessment. Everyone looks good and feels reasonably well.”

The crew was to return to the mainland by helicopter and then to Orlando for several days to complete the medical and other research they had performed aboard the space station and, in the short term, enjoy “a good night’s rest.” deserved”. Hasmann said.

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Moments after the splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville, Florida, SpaceX recovery teams rush to the Crew Dragon to help the crew and check the ship is in good condition.

SpaceX


Splashdown arrived a week later than originally planned due to high winds and rough seas at available landing sites in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic and to avoid a conflict with a Russian spacewalk at the beginning of last week.

But with forecasts calling for near-ideal conditions on Monday, López-Alegría and his teammates bid farewell to the station crew and undocked from lab complex Sunday evening, enjoying one last “night” in space before heading home.

The descent began at 12:16 p.m. when the Crew Dragon, after shedding its no longer needed trunk section, fired its nose-mounted brake rockets for about nine minutes, slowing the ship d ‘about 130 mph, just enough to give up. orbit on a trajectory towards the coast of Florida.

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Last to go, Crew Dragon Commander Michael López-Alegría exits the Crew Dragon capsule, assisted by SpaceX support personnel. After initial medical checks, the four crew members planned to return to the mainland in a helicopter.

SpaceX


After a half-hour freefall, Endeavor slammed into the perceptible atmosphere, using its SpaceX-designed heat shield to dissipate the 2,000-degree temperatures generated by atmospheric friction.

After a steep northwest-to-southeast trajectory through the heartland of America, the spacecraft’s four main parachutes deployed and less than five minutes later, Endeavor crashed in full view of crews. recovery.

Plans for the next launch

With the Axiom-1 crew – Ax-1 – safely back on Earth, NASA and SpaceX are continuing their plans to launch four professional astronauts to the space station on Wednesday atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday.

Crew-4 astronauts — Commander Kjell Lindgren, pilot Bob Hines, geologist-astronaut Jessica Watkins and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti — are due to lift off at 3:52:55 a.m. Wednesday, setting up a mooring to the space station Wednesday evening. .

Benji Reed, Director of Human Spaceflight Programs at SpaceX said engineers were already reviewing data collected during the Axiom-1 mission to ensure no issues were present that could affect Crew-4’s launch.

“We will have a launch readiness review later tonight, and we will be ready to present any concerns or issues and most likely, how well everything is going for our Crew-4 launch,” said he declared.

Lindgren and his crewmates replace Crew 3 commander Raja Chari, pilot Thomas Marshburn, submariner-turned-astronaut Kayla Barron and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, who launched to the station in November last. They are expected to return to Earth next week with their own splashdown.

Boosting the private sector in space

The just-completed Axiom-1 mission was the sixth piloted flight of a SpaceX Crew Dragon, the second carrying nonprofessional astronauts on a commercial mission to low Earth orbit, and the first to make an entirely commercial visit to the space station. .

The mission was carried out with the cooperation and encouragement of NASA, as part of an agency initiative to stimulate private sector use of the International Space Station and the eventual development of commercial research stations. in Earth orbit.

Unlike the wealthy “space tourists” who visited the space station in the past escorted by Russian cosmonauts, the crew of the AX-1 carried out multiple biomedical experiments, technological demonstrations and awareness activities of the public, reflecting the type of work future NASA-sanctioned commercial aircrew are expected to perform. perform aboard the space station.

Houston-based Axiom Space paid SpaceX an undisclosed amount for the flight while paying NASA for space station resources and professional lab crew assistance. The negotiated cost of the mission covered the possibility of launch and landing delays.

López-Alegría, former astronaut and vice president of Axiom, flew as the company’s representative while Connor, Pathy, and Stibbe paid for their seats. No cost figures were released by Axiom, NASA or the three fare-paying passengers, but NASA’s inspector general estimated the cost of a Crew Dragon seat at around $55 million.

Axiom Space plans to launch several “private astronaut missions” as the company develops research and habitation modules that will initially be attached to the International Space Station, then fly on their own as a self-contained laboratory complex after the withdrawal of the ISS.

“Overall it was an incredible success,” Hassmann said of the Axiom-1 mission. “The crew performed beyond expectations, the ground crews were great. I look forward to seeing the crew tomorrow and getting feedback on their experience and then starting work for Ax-2 and subsequent assignments.