'It came alive:' Astronauts recount wild ride home on SpaceX's Crew
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[August 05, 2020]
By Joey Roulette
(Reuters) - U.S. astronauts Bob Behnken and
Doug Hurley, home two days from a landmark mission as NASA's first crew
to fly a privately built vehicle into orbit, recounted on Tuesday the
loud, jarring ride they experienced through Earth's atmosphere before a
safe landing at sea.
Their splash-down on Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida - a mode
of return for human spaceflight last used by NASA 45 years ago - capped
the first launch of astronauts from U.S. soil in nine years.
At a news conference from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, their
first extensive public remarks since coming home, Behnken, 50, and
Hurley, 53, described the tense final moments of their 64-day journey.
The duo endured tremendous, jolting forces as the SpaceX-built Crew
Dragon, an acorn-shaped vehicle that had carried them to the
International Space Station, fired rocket thrusters to slow its descent
for re-entry, then pierced the outer atmosphere.
"It came alive," Behnken told reporters of the nearly 12-minute thruster
burn. "It doesn't sound like a machine, it sounds like an animal coming
through the atmosphere."
As the capsule streaked deeper through the sky, atmospheric friction
scorched the protective heat shield of the plunging Crew Dragon to 3,500
Fahrenheit (1,927 Celsius), slowing its rate of descent to 350 mph (563
At that point, the first of two sets of parachutes were deployed,
abruptly breaking the capsule's speed further - an interval that felt
"very much like getting hit in the back of the chair with a baseball
bat," Behnken recalled.
"It was a pretty significant jolt," he said.
The second set of chutes gradually slowed the capsule to a gentle 15-mph
rate of descent for a splash-down that ended what Hurley called a
[to top of second column]
NASA astronaut Douglas Hurley gives the OK sign prior to being
helped out of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft onboard
the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship after he and NASA astronaut
Robert Behnken landed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of
Pensacola, Florida, U.S., August 2, 2020. Photo taken Augut 2, 2020.
NASA/Bill Ingalls/Handout via REUTERS
Minutes later, recovery teams dispatched by SpaceX, the
California-based rocket company founded by billionaire entrepreneur
Elon Musk, hoisted the capsule onto a boat. Behnken and Hurley where
then flown by helicopter to shore to catch a private flight to
The two were launched to the International Space Station from
Florida on May 31, embarking on a two-month journey to prove the
Crew Dragon capsule safe for transporting humans to and from space.
While bobbing in the water just after splash-down awaiting recovery
teams, Hurley said they completed one final test objective for the
mission: "making prank satellite phone calls to whoever we can get a
"There was a real reason for it," Hurley said, in all seriousness,
explaining that they needed to prove they could contact mission
control using a sat-phone in case the crew landed from space in an
unexpected part of the ocean.
(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Washington; Editing by Steve Gorman,
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