Two American astronauts from the International Space Station landed in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday aboard a SpaceX capsule, crowning the success of the space company’s first demonstration mission for NASA.
In less than an hour, aboard SpaceX’s Dragon, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley went from a speed of 28,000 km / h in orbit to a speed of 24 km / h at the time of the landing, four large parachutes having opened as expected after the scorching atmospheric re-entry. They landed off Pensacola in the Gulf of Mexico, a site chosen to avoid a tropical storm in the area.
“Welcome to Earth, and thank you for flying on SpaceX,” the flight director told the astronauts, who responded immediately.
The successful round trip to the International Space Station (ISS) ends Russia’s monopoly for access to the ISS since the Americans parked their space shuttles in July 2011. NASA will use the Dragon capsule around twice per year to send four astronauts at a time, including non-Americans, a Japanese and the European Thomas Pesquet being planned for the next missions.
A “revolution” for NASA
The mission may seem like a modest step in space exploration: “Bob” and “Doug” did not go to the Moon or to Mars, only to the old space station, 400 km from Earth, where Russians and Americans and others have been coming and going since 1998.
NASA, however, sees it as a “revolution”, because SpaceX will give the United States back access to space, less expensive than its previous programs. For three billion granted since 2011 under a fixed price contract, SpaceX fully developed a new space taxi and promised six round trips to the ISS. Previously, the space agency ordered a specific vehicle from industry giants, and assumed all budget overruns.
In doing so, the ex-start-up beat Boeing, whose Starliner capsule, developed for the same purpose, missed an empty test flight last year and won’t be ready until 2021 at the earliest.