On August 1, NASA astronauts Robert bainken and Douglas Hurley left the ISS on SpaceX’s crew dragon spacecraft after completing their orbital laboratory mission, ending their historic international space station flight. They began their journey back to earth at 5:15 p.m. EDT and landed near the west coast of Florida.
it is not easy to return to earth from orbit. The two astronauts have a long journey before they return to the earth. When bainken and Hurley leave the station, they will spend 18 hours in orbit, slowly distancing themselves from the international space station, and then dive into the earth’s atmosphere. The dive can be said to be challenging because crew dragon will experience extreme temperatures of up to 3500 degrees Fahrenheit and slow down from 17500 miles per hour.
it is estimated that at about 5:45 p.m. EDT, the crew dragon spacecraft will close the cabin door, and they will stay in it until 7:34 p.m. Eastern time. Apart from docking, the hook fixing the crew dragon will retract and release the capsule into space. Next, the crew dragon’s thrusters will burn twice to further separate from the ISS.
a few hours after the docking is released, the spacecraft will have another engine combustion to make the aircraft go to the planned landing site. Now, NASA and SpaceX are aiming for a sputter landing off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico. The site is one of seven possible locations around Florida. NASA and SpaceX prefer crew dragon to land in the east of Florida, near the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. However, tropical storm Isaias is expected to sweep through eastern Florida this weekend, forcing two astronauts to travel westward. If not, crew dragon will go to a backup location outside Panama City. If one of these sites is successful, it will be the first time the spacecraft has landed in the Gulf of Mexico.
the two astronautics will try to get a sleep before the scheduled descent through the atmosphere on Sunday afternoon. At about 1:44 p.m. EST on Sunday, SpaceX will drop a large piece of the spacecraft’s payload: the trunk of the capsule. This is a cylindrical piece of hardware attached to the back end of the capsule, providing support during launch and providing additional space to carry cargo. It also houses all the solar panels that power the spacecraft during the flight. But by the time it lands, SpaceX doesn’t need the trunk, so it separates, falls into the earth’s atmosphere and burns out.
at 1:49 p.m. EST on Sunday, the final descent will begin. “Crew dragon” will burn the thruster again, take the capsule out of orbit and steer it toward Earth. This started a series of quick events. When crew dragon descends in the atmosphere, it will start to heat up, and the outer thermal shield of the capsule will protect the spacecraft and its crew. Due to the heating plasma accumulated around the capsule, the communication signal will be disturbed, followed by a difficult six minute communication silence period.
the atmosphere helps cushion the fall of “crew dragon”, which greatly slows down its speed. But the spacecraft needs a little extra help to get down safely. At about 18000 feet, two parachutes will be deployed from the spacecraft as the capsule moves at 350 miles per hour. These small parachutes will slow the capsule down to about 119 mph before the main one is deployed. When “crew dragon” is lowered to 6000 feet, four large red and white parachutes will be deployed to brake the aircraft and make it slowly splash into the sea at about 2:41 p.m. Eastern time.
once the capsule is in water, two SpaceX vessels carrying dozens of people will join the crew dragon. They will lift the capsule out of the sea, retrieve their parachutes, and then take bainken and Hurley to safety. The astronauts will be airlifted to a helicopter landing pad on shore, which will then take them to an airplane and take them back to Houston.
NASA’s YouTube channel has been broadcast live at 5:15 p.m. Eastern time, and viewers can follow this channel to see every step of the two astronauts returning home.