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Boaters gatecrash SpaceX's 1st splashdown with astronauts. 'We need to do better,' NASA chief says

It was an unprecedented sight: A SpaceX capsule — the first to carry NASA astronauts  — bobbing in the Gulf of Mexico, surrounded by private boaters, one of them bearing a flag supporting President Donald Trump.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down off the coast of Pensacola, Florida Sunday (Aug. 2), returning astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to Earth after their historic Demo-2 test flight. But shortly after that splashdown, private boats swarmed the space capsule, apparently hoping for a closer look. 

"That was not what we were anticipating," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a post-splashdown briefing. "After they landed, the boats just came in. We need to do a better job next time for sure."

Full coverage: SpaceX's historic Demo-2 Crew Dragon astronaut test flight

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SpaceX hoists the Demo-2 Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour from the Gulf of Mexico while private boaters watch nearby off the coast of Pensacola, Florida on Aug. 2, 2020.

(Image credit: NASA TV)
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Private boaters, one bearing a Trump flag, approach close to SpaceX's Demo-2 Crew Dragon capsule carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley shortly after its splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the Pensacola, Florida coast on Aug. 2, 2020.

(Image credit: NASA TV)
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This aerial view of SpaceX's Demo-2 Crew Dragon capsule recovery shows a ring of private boaters around the spacecraft shortly after splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida on Aug. 2, 2020.

(Image credit: NASA TV)

NASA TV views of the Crew Dragon showed many recreational boaters encroaching on SpaceX's recovery zone, some of them floating quite close to the capsule. One of the boats had a Trump flag as it circled the capsule, while another had an American flag.

Bridenstine said the U.S. Coast Guard did clear the landing zone ahead of the splashdown, and the landing itself had no issues. The SpaceX recovery ship Go Navigator recovered the capsule about 30 minutes after splashdown, but not before the private boats arrived.

"That capsule was in the water for a good amount of time and those boats just made a beeline for it," Bridenstine said. "There are things that we're going to look at, that we need to do better at, for sure."

SpaceX recovery crews in fast boats worked to push back the encroaching boaters. Still, the private boats could be seen in an arc around SpaceX's Go Navigator as the retrieval team plucked the capsule from the sea. 

"The lesson learned here is that we probably need more Coast Guard assets,and maybe more SpaceX and NASA assets as well," SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in the post-splashdown briefing. "This was a demonstration mission. This is the time that you go learn about these things, and we'll certainly be better prepared next time."

SpaceX launched the Demo-2 mission May 30, sending Behnken and Hurley to the International Space Station on a two-month shakedown cruise for the spacecraft. The mission, a crewed demonstration flight that followed a 2019 unpiloted test flight to the station, marked the final trial before SpaceX begins operational crewed flights for NASA in late September. 

SpaceX is one of two commercial companies with multi-billion-dollar contracts to fly astronauts to and from the space station for NASA. The other company, Boeing, will use its own capsule Starliner, which is designed to land on land.

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  • newtons_laws
    The Apollo capsules generally splashed down in the Pacific Ocean a long way from land. I guess one drawback of having the SpaceX Dragon capsule splash down in the Gulf of Mexico not far from Pensacola meant that quite a few sightseers in boats wanted to get a close up look. Rather stupid behaviour by the boaters, not only were they impeding the recovery effort but some were getting so close to the capsule that they both risked an inadvertent collision and ran the risk of being exposed to toxic fumes from the Draco thrusters that had not yet been purged (the Draco thrusters use monomethyl hydrazine fuel which is toxic and carcinogenic in small amounts, and nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer which is also highly toxic) . “With limited assets available and with no formal authority to establish zones that would stop boaters from entering the area, numerous boaters ignored the Coast Guard crews’ requests and decided to encroach the area, putting themselves and those involved in the operation in potential danger,” the Coast Guard said in a statement, adding that it would launch a “comprehensive review” of the operation with NASA and SpaceX . They'll need to have better control of intruding boats for future missions. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/08/02/spacex-return-updates/
    Reply
  • Jenny
    Calling the behavior of boaters "stupid" is not how I see it. For one thing you classify them as "boaters". If they were standing on the land would you call them "standers"? They are people and people are curious or perhaps even interested! I do not see how they impeded the recovery effort. The Coast Guard appeared to keep them out of danger to themselves and the recovery crew. They did their job! They just didn't like it.

    Regardless of where the splashdowns occur, said splashdowns are made public. Finding out where the splashdown will take place is easy enough to do even if it were not made public information. I suppose if NASA/Space X wanted it to be unattended by onlookers or secret, they might try not even suggesting when/where a splashdown might occur. Huh, imagine that, not having instant media coverage to protect these programs, whoda thunk it? Rocket science?

    As far as a risk of being exposed to carcinogenic toxins, perhaps these rocket scientists need to either NOT USE these carcinogens or find a way to eliminate the possibility of them being released (highly unlikely). But I guess if we leave it to rocket scientists to fix these issues we shouldn't hold our breath or perhaps we should! The final frontier is the next phase in places we are going to ruin with our garbage, just like they have within our own solar system. Either way it is a lose/lose endeavor. But name calling is always a solution isn't it?

    Some things to think about, science for example. We are curious creatures. We begin by wonder and by examination. We innovate and invent and eventually we explore, we do so at great risk and human sacrifice. Science seems to have disproved the theory of creationism and the theory of evolution has determined that the earth was here long before "human" life.

    In the few thousand years we have existed, even with all of our great discoveries, still we have thick and empty heads. We are going to colonize other orbs? Or at least we think we are going to. Some think that human life is going to exist forever so we are going to explore the universe. This is laughable at best.

    What we are doing is interrupting, if ever so minutely the natural evolution of the universe with our toxins and poisons and space junk. What we are doing is getting in our own way. We are literally standing on our own neckties and trying to stand up at the same time. In this position, bent over, we are eventually going to "get it" in the end!

    But no really, name-calling is always the right thing to do!
    Reply
  • Jenny
    Admin said:
    SpaceX's first splashdown of NASA astronauts on a Crew Dragon capsule was gatecrashed by private boaters on Aug. 2, 2020.

    Boaters gatecrash SpaceX's 1st splashdown with astronauts. 'We need to do better,' NASA chief says : Read more


    Gatecrash? Really?
    Reply
  • newtons_laws
    Jenny said:
    Calling the behavior of boaters "stupid" is not how I see it. For one thing you classify them as "boaters". If they were standing on the land would you call them "standers"? They are people and people are curious or perhaps even interested! I do not see how they impeded the recovery effort. The Coast Guard appeared to keep them out of danger to themselves and the recovery crew. They did their job! They just didn't like it.

    Regardless of where the splashdowns occur, said splashdowns are made public. Finding out where the splashdown will take place is easy enough to do even if it were not made public information. I suppose if NASA/Space X wanted it to be unattended by onlookers or secret, they might try not even suggesting when/where a splashdown might occur. Huh, imagine that, not having instant media coverage to protect these programs, whoda thunk it? Rocket science?

    As far as a risk of being exposed to carcinogenic toxins, perhaps these rocket scientists need to either NOT USE these carcinogens or find a way to eliminate the possibility of them being released (highly unlikely). But I guess if we leave it to rocket scientists to fix these issues we shouldn't hold our breath or perhaps we should! The final frontier is the next phase in places we are going to ruin with our garbage, just like they have within our own solar system. Either way it is a lose/lose endeavor. But name calling is always a solution isn't it?

    Some things to think about, science for example. We are curious creatures. We begin by wonder and by examination. We innovate and invent and eventually we explore, we do so at great risk and human sacrifice. Science seems to have disproved the theory of creationism and the theory of evolution has determined that the earth was here long before "human" life.

    In the few thousand years we have existed, even with all of our great discoveries, still we have thick and empty heads. We are going to colonize other orbs? Or at least we think we are going to. Some think that human life is going to exist forever so we are going to explore the universe. This is laughable at best.

    What we are doing is interrupting, if ever so minutely the natural evolution of the universe with our toxins and poisons and space junk. What we are doing is getting in our own way. We are literally standing on our own neckties and trying to stand up at the same time. In this position, bent over, we are eventually going to "get it" in the end!

    But no really, name-calling is always the right thing to do!
    Jenny, just two points. 1) You said I "classified them as boaters". I was merely using the term from the original Space.com article which called them "boaters". It seems a pretty reasonable accurate description of people who are in boats and as far as I'm concerned is in no way a derogatory term, just as people on (bi)cycles are cyclists. :) 2) Perhaps "stupid" was too strong a term, but getting so close was not a sensible thing to do for the reasons stated, if somebody does something which isn't sensible how best to describe them, perhaps "thoughtless" or "ignorant"?
    Reply
  • crowbar
    Newtons_laws - They certainly weren't acting like smart people, they were warned to stay away, and ignored the warning. I think you got it right, although thoughtless or ignorant also describe their actions well. Glad they didn't cause any harm to Bob and Doug. If they hurt themselves after being warned to stay away, oh well. Darwinism maybe?
    Reply
  • Wolfshadw
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    Reply
  • Jenny
    newtons_laws said:
    Jenny, just two points. 1) You said I "classified them as boaters". I was merely using the term from the original Space.com article which called them "boaters". It seems a pretty reasonable accurate description of people who are in boats and as far as I'm concerned is in no way a derogatory term, just as people on (bi)cycles are cyclists. :) 2) Perhaps "stupid" was too strong a term, but getting so close was not a sensible thing to do for the reasons stated, if somebody does something which isn't sensible how best to describe them, perhaps "thoughtless" or "ignorant"?

    That's a little better... LOL! Nicer name-calling! Perhaps they are doo-doo heads, LOL?
    Reply
  • kristianna276
    When the Space Shuttles were flying to the ISS they just needed a runway to land on and go about their merry way. With the "new" and improved Apollo style capsule, they have to return to dunking in the ocean. That means there will be more sightseers who want to see first hand these marvels of technologies first hand. If Space X can land their rockets back on Earth, why can't they land the space ships back the same way? We just needed a better version of the Space Shuttle, why reinvent the wheel? Unless we need to give the Navy something to do, since it has so much free time on its hands.
    Reply
  • AsteroidAware
    Yes , I wondered about that one too when I saw the capsule bobbing in the ocean --- a pretty ancient and awkward way to recover Astronauts! When compared to the modern landing boosters at least.

    I appreciate though that it requires significant extra fuel to steer the capsule back to land as that hardware has to go up and all the way back down, carrying that weight I mean.
    Reply
  • newtons_laws
    kristianna276 said:
    When the Space Shuttles were flying to the ISS they just needed a runway to land on and go about their merry way. With the "new" and improved Apollo style capsule, they have to return to dunking in the ocean. That means there will be more sightseers who want to see first hand these marvels of technologies first hand. If Space X can land their rockets back on Earth, why can't they land the space ships back the same way? We just needed a better version of the Space Shuttle, why reinvent the wheel? Unless we need to give the Navy something to do, since it has so much free time on its hands.

    SpaceX originally designed the Dragon capsule to land back on ground using the in-built Super Draco thrusters as retro rockets to fire just before landing to cushion the impact (similar to how the Russian Soyuz capsule lands). However in 2017 the decision was made to abandon this option, primarily due to certification issues with NASA. The rival (and delayed) Boeing CST-100 Starliner capsule is designed to land on the ground using a system of airbags to cushion the impact. https://spacenews.com/spacex-drops-plans-for-powered-dragon-landings/
    Reply