Any lesson or article in the history of space travel would tell the reader that, while the Apollo rocket program by NASA succeeded in putting man on the moon 16 times, it was also – for the time – incredibly expensive due to how everything about the spacecraft was one-use only. The American space agency found a solution in the Space Shuttle system, but by now the shuttle fleet has been completely retired. At this point NASA has been relying on private aerospace firms like SpaceX, which has successfully deployed true reusable rocket engines and launch vehicles. Their greatest highlight yet happened from May to this month, courtesy of the Crew Dragon.
The Verge has it that the Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission by SpaceX to demonstrate the reliable reusability of their Dragon 2 space rocket ended in success this August 2, when the Crew Dragon capsule carrying a team of NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken departed from the International Space Station (ISS) and splashed down on the Gulf of Mexico offshore from Pensacola, Florida this past Sunday. The crew had spent two months at the ISS after they arrived there following the original launch of Crew Dragon Demo-2, May 30.
For Elon Musk’s aerospace transportation company, the completion of Demo-2 proved that their Dragon 2 capsule’s manned variant (“Crew Dragon”) was a safe and reliable launch vehicle for astronauts to get to space, primarily for docking with the ISS. Indeed, after the Crew Dragon capsule, named Endeavor, docked at the space station, its crew of Behnken and Hurley spent June and July with the on-duty ISS Expedition 63 crew, helping with science experiments and scheduled spacewalks. By August 1, the two astronauts were back in Endeavor with a load of scientific cargo, just as the Crew Dragon undocked autonomously from its ISS berth to prepare for re-entry to the Earth.
Besides the proving of the SpaceX Dragon 2 system, the Demo-2 mission also logged some firsts for US space travel. This was the first time a re-entry space capsule splashed down into the sea since 1975 with the unnumbered Apollo capsule from the US-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. And rather than in the Pacific, Endeavor went down in the Gulf of Mexico, much closer to its launch origin in Florida. With these out of the way, the second part of proving the Crew Dragon’s capability will be done early next year.
At that time, the Endeavor Crew Dragon capsule will be reused for the first time since its successful maiden flight, on a mission designated Crew-2 carrying astronauts from NASA (two), Japan’s JAXA (1) and the European Space Agency (ESA) (1).
Image courtesy of Tech Crunch