Two NASA astronauts are supposed to return to Earth this weekend onboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. This will mark the first time that the Crew Dragon will bring passengers back to Earth. The journey will decide if the new passenger capsule is safe enough to transport people to and from space.
The two NASA astronauts -- Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley – who will be brought back this weekend, charted history earlier by becoming the first people to be launched into the International Space Station by a privately made vehicle.
Behnken and Hurley are supposed to undock from the space station at around 7:34 pm ET on August 1 and is supposed to touch down in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida coast around 2:42 pm ET on August 2.
This launch also brought back the United States in the league of nations launching humans into space. Since the 2011 flight of the Space Shuttle, NASA has depended on Russian rockets to catapult astronauts into space, but if all goes well, they will be able to rely on SpaceX vehicles in the future.
This landing is thus crucial. It will be the last decisive step before SpaceX joins hands with NASA for its Commercial Crew Program. The Dragon Crew flight carrying Behnken and Hurley are SpaceX’s first crewed test flight. Yet, the mission has been dubbed Demo-2 because SpaceX had earlier carried out an uncrewed test flight, which had been dubbed Demo-1.
A report by The Verge quotes former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman as saying: “From the laws of physics standpoint, we’re only halfway done… All that energy you put in [during launch], you have to take every bit of that energy out when you come home.”
Reisman, a SpaceX consultant, used to work on the Crew Dragon, explained that when the passenger capsule will undock from the station and plunge into Earth, its heat shield will protect the astronauts from the intense heat that may reach up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the Crew Dragon safely penetrates the Earth’s thick atmosphere, it will deploy parachutes. By this time, the vehicle will start slowing down so that it can splash gently into the Atlantic Ocean.
Notably, this is not the first time a SpaceX vehicle has made a journey to space and back, but all of those were done using cargo versions of the Crew Dragon, which has a different build and functions differently too.