Written by Ria Singh, a grade 6 student.
On Sunday night, India time, two NASA astronauts – Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley – landed safely back on Earth inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule.
This is a big deal, for many reasons.
This mission took off on the 30th of May this year. It was the first time that NASA astronauts went to space in a privately owned rocket. NASA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is a US-Government based space agency and it partnered with SpaceX, owned by millionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, for sending the astronauts into space. The rocket, called Falcon 9 was made by SpaceX. NASA has never, before this, sent its astronauts in a rocket that it did not own and make from its territory. We covered it in May – here.
What’s remarkable about this rocket is that it is reusable, which is unlike the other rockets used till now. The older spacecraft were designed in a way that they got destructed after landing and could not be used for any other missions. But, that’s one of the things that’s different about Falcon 9 – a technology that SpaceX put a lot of research and effort into – it does not get destroyed and can be used again. This has brought down the costs of space exploration considerably.
When Falcon lifted off on the 30th of May it was after nine years that NASA had sent their astronauts into space from US soil (they’d gone on Russian space ships before, but not from the US). The astronauts went to the ISS – or The International Space Station (ISS) is, which, to put simply, is a large spacecraft that orbits around the earth. The ISS doubles up as a laboratory that has been set up by various countries and is made up of assorted pieces set up by astronauts in space.
On Sunday, the spacecraft carrying the two astronauts landed back – in the Gulf of Mexico, and with this safe return, the Crew Dragon successfully completed its first-ever passenger flight to orbit.
There are two ways in which spacecraft can land back when they return from outer space – on land or on water. The Russians seem to prefer land, while the Americans use water, or what’s called the splashdown method.
The way it works is that the rocket lands on a large body of water (like the a). As it comes close to the water, parachutes are deployed to slow down the rocket. The water is like a cushion for the spacecraft as it lands on the water. The mission is not over after the landing – the important part is to get to the rocket (by boats) and take out the astronauts quickly – but it needs to be done is a methodical way – the cabin pressure needs to be normalized before they can be pulled out.
All this happened successfully with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. Watch this video below:
Watch Elon Musk talk about the mission (how it took 18 years to get to this and he worked for it)