Zoom in / The Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft is expected to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere on Friday morning.

NASA

After a 177-day space flight, four astronauts returned to Earth early Friday morning aboard the Crew Dragon Endurance.

NASA astronauts Kayla Barron, Raja Chari and Tom Marshburn, as well as European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, disconnected from the International Space Station on Thursday before lining up. Endurance for a return that brought him back to Earth through Campeche Bay, the Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico.

The seas were fair when Endurance exploded at 04:43 ET on Friday (04:43 UTC), with a glass surface on the ocean. The spacecraft was brought aboard a lifeboat called the Shannonand the crew climbed less than an hour after landing. From there, they boarded a helicopter and then flew to Houston to meet with family members.

That was it EnduranceThe first space flight of and the commander, Chari, said that he performed well on the flight to and from the space station. “Thank you for allowing us to take Endurance on his cruise to shake,” Chari said shortly after landing. “I look forward to watching many more Endurance flights in the future. It’s been a great trip.”

While aboard the station, Crew-3 astronauts conducted hundreds of scientific experiments, such as testing drought-resistant cotton plants and research on vision loss. They brought some of these experiments back with them, in freezers on the Dragon spacecraft.

Splashdown marked the completion of the fourth space flight with NASA’s SpaceX crew – carrying a total of 14 astronauts to and from the International Space Station – as well as two private orbital space flights, the Inspiration4 and Axiom-1 missions. In addition, the Crew-4 mission recently launched on April 27 for NASA, with four astronauts currently living at the station.

In less than two years of its debut as a human spacecraft, Crew Dragon has already launched more astronauts into orbit, 22, than NASA’s Gemini spacecraft, 20. Next is the Apollo capsule with 45 astronauts. The number of space shuttles of more than 800 astronauts is likely to remain inaccessible for three decades until SpaceX’s much larger Starship spacecraft appears online.

The last month has been particularly busy for the private rocket company. SpaceX launched the private Axiom 1 mission on April 8 and landed it on April 25. Just two days later, on April 27, SpaceX launched the Crew-4 mission to NASA. And on Friday morning, his teams saw Crew-3 flights safely at home.

“If you just look at all this work over the last month, you know, I really want to thank SpaceX personally for doing such seamless operations on all these missions,” said Katie Luders, head of human space operations at NASA, in a post. – press conference for landing. “Very quiet launches. Beautiful landings. And I really want to express my gratitude to both the ISS teams and the sales crew, who spent long hours solving problems and facilitating many in-orbit and ground operations. “

SpaceX also launched three other rockets in the last month; two Starlink satellite missions and one classified satellite for the National Intelligence Service. In addition, SpaceX plans to launch Starlink on Friday morning at 5:42 AM ET (09:42 UTC), just five hours after the Crew-3 landed.

So, is this too much for the company to handle safely? NASA officials say SpaceX has hired enough people on different teams to handle the whole thing. NASA’s Steve Stitch, who runs the Commercial Crew Program, also said SpaceX stands out from other space companies in the amount of work it automates, especially when it comes to reviewing launch and landing data.

William Gerstenmeier, vice president of flight construction and reliability at SpaceX, said the last month had been a “special time” for his company. But he added that different groups of people at SpaceX are focused on different projects and have managed to keep their focus. “Our heads were not on a whirlpool,” he said.

The results seem to confirm this.

https://arstechnica.com/?p=1852635

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