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Image Credit: NASA.

Crew-1 astronauts safely return back to Earth

The four Crew-1 astronauts Michael Hopkins (NASA), Victor Glover (NASA), Shannon Walker (NASA) and Soichi Noguchi (JAXA) have safely landed back on Earth earlier this morning after an almost six-month long stay onboard the International Space Station (ISS). The Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience with the four astronauts successfully undocked from the space-facing (zenith) docking port of the space station’s Harmony module a few hours ago on Sunday morning, May 2, 2021 at 00:35 UTC. The vehicle then autonomously performed two undocking burns and four depart burns, to depart the ISS and exit the keep-out sphere (200 m around the space station) and the approach ellipsoid (4 km x 2 km x 2 km around the station). At 04:07 UTC, Resilience began a 3 min 17 s long propellant wasting burn to get rid of about 80 kg to 90 kg of propellant no longer needed for the mission.

Resilience undocks from the Harmony module. Image Credit: NASA TV.
Resilience undocks from the Harmony module. Image Credit: NASA TV.

In preparation for reentry, the capsule separated the claw connecting the thermal control, power and avionics system components on the trunk with the capsule and soon after jettisoned the trunk itself. Just minutes later the 16 min 26 s long retrograde deorbit burn began, slowing Resilience down ahead of reentry. The last step before the astronauts could return back home was the closure of the nosecone, which protects the forward hatch during ascent and descent. That milestone was completed shortly after the deorbit burn ended.

Around 20 minutes later, the craft began entering Earth’s atmosphere. To slow Resilience down before splashdown, the capsule deployed multiple drogue and main parachutes once it had reached the lower parts of the atmosphere. At 02:56 EDT / 06:56 UTC the Crew-1 astronauts safely splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City in Florida. Within about an hour, recovery personal had secured the Crew Dragon and hoisted it onboard SpaceX’ recovery vessel Go Navigator. There the side hatch was opened and medical doctors checkt the health of the three men and the one woman. The first crew members to exit the vehicle were commander Michael Hopkins and capsule pilot Victor Glover, soon followed by mission specialists Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi. After more medical test onboard the ship, the four were flown back to shore by helicopter where a NASA plane waited to fly them to Houston in Texas.

The Crew-1 Crew Dragon capsule seen during recovery and just minutes before beeing hoisted onboard Go Navigator. Image Credit: NASA TV.
The Crew-1 Crew Dragon capsule seen during recovery and just minutes before beeing hoisted onboard Go Navigator. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The Crew-1 mission was the first operational flight of SpaceX’ Crew Dragon vehicle under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The mission began on November 16, 2020, with the launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from historic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. About 27 hours later on Nov. 17, Resilience and its four passengers, successfully docked to the forward-facing docking port at the space station’s Harmony module, joining the Expedition 64 members Kate Rubins (NASA), Sergey Ryzhikov (Roscosmos) and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov (Roscosmos). The primary objectives of the flight were science and research investigations, as well as station maintenance. On April 5, 2021, Resilience had to be relocated from Harmony’s forward-facing docking port to the module’s space-facing docking port to open the port for the arrival of Crew-2 Crew Dragon Endeavour on April 24.

The landing was the first night splashdown of a U.S. crewed vehicle since the return of the Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders from the Moon in 1968. With 168 days spent in space, the Crew-1 mission broke the record for the longest mission duration of a U.S. crewed spacecraft, previosly held by the Skylab 4 crew. The mission was the first flight of Crew Dragon Resilience. The capsule will now be refurbished and reused again on the Crew-3 mission later this year.

Click here to rewatch the undocking of Resilience.

Click here to watch the splashdown of the four astronauts.


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