A new milestone may have just been achieved with SpaceX’s Dragon Crew making a nighttime splashdown as it returned to Earth, bringing the crew back from the International Space Station. This is the first nighttime landing of light crewed by the US in almost 53 years. The last one was NASA’s Apollo 8 mission in 1968. The Dragon Crew was supposed to return early however bad weather conditions had delayed the flight.
Even after being delayed twice, the capsule finally left the station on late Saturday, 1st May. The Dragon capsule landed off the Florida coast, bringing the four astronauts on it safely back to earth. Everyone was ecstatic and the operations crew even cracked jokes touting the journey as a regular airplane trip.
A SpaceX crew operations and resources engineer joked with the crew saying that “Dragon, on behalf of NASA and SpaceX teams, we welcome you back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX. For those of you enrolled in our frequent flier program, you’ve earned 68 million miles [109 million kilometers] on this voyage”.
I bet when this mode of travel becomes consumer affordable there may just be space flier programs. NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins acknowledged the joke and said that “It is good to be back on planet Earth. We’ll take those miles. Are they transferable?”. The Dragon capsule carried Mike Hopkins as well as fellow NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and as well as Soichi Noguchi, an astronaut from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA.
NASA’s Commercial Crew program manager, Steve Stich told reporters that “The vehicle is certified to land during the day or night, so there’s not an issue with the vehicle itself. And we’ve been practicing with the recovery crews to land in day or night”. The recovery went without a hitch. SpaceX insured no other boats would come near to the capsule.
Stich shed light on their efforts saying that “Today the United States Coast Guard had several assets on scene and patrol that area. We had no leisure boats within the ellipse that we cleared for landing. So that was much much better than last time. Overall just a great, great flight”
With SpaceX’s Crew-3 mission for NASA launching this fall, it looks like SpaceX’s dream of low orbit transportation may be closer than people expected.