Crew-2's safe return to Earth lit up the night sky over New Orleans and Florida on Tuesday (Nov. 9), wowing viewers with a sky show.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down safely in the Gulf of Mexico just south of Pensacola, Florida, at 10:33 p.m. EST (0333 GMT on Nov. 9). In its last few minutes of the 199-day mission, it left a glowing trail during re-entry visible to viewers underneath.
Landing story: SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon capsule splashes down in Gulf of Mexico
Just like a meteor, returning spacecraft are traveling at high speeds and compress the atmosphere just ahead of them, causing the atmosphere to glow. If the sky is clear, the glow can be visible for many miles.
"Holy crap that was awesome!" a skywatcher named Christopher of Mandeville, Louisiana wrote on Twitter while sharing a photo of the reentry.
The reentry zone was a particular treat for viewers in New Orleans, given that the astronauts splashed down on the west side of the Florida. During the space shuttle era, returning spacecraft typically landed in Florida closer to the eastern coast (Orlando area), towards the runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. Viewers in the region shared their excitement on Twitter, as you can see below.
HOLY CRAP THAT WAS AWESOME! I wish we would’ve gone to the lake but I just couldn’t leave the house. For anyone who doesn’t know that was @SpaceX Dragon. I screwed up and hit photo and not video so a little upset but my son did get a small video I’ll put up after. @NWSNewOrleans pic.twitter.com/67agrc4mOPNovember 9, 2021
Crew 2 renters the Earth’s atmosphere. Welcome home @astro_kimbrough @Astro_Megan @Thom_astro @Aki_Hoshide As seen from Venice, LA at the end of the Mississippi River. pic.twitter.com/UsoY5uOJ3XNovember 9, 2021
Please excuse the excitement and language. I was overwhelmed pic.twitter.com/1MkjLbcON6November 9, 2021
How cool is this!? @SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavor reentering the atmosphere over the Gulf of Mexico visible over #Nola and SELA!! pic.twitter.com/9KSf2eNURTNovember 9, 2021
#SpaceX ‘s return tonight from the pass in Orange Beach! Very cool to watch #sonicboom #orangebeach #alabama @spann pic.twitter.com/KOQcp6pGjuNovember 9, 2021
Crew Dragon is a different reentry experience to that of the shuttle or the Soyuz, returning astronauts have reported. "It sounds like an animal," NASA astronaut Bob Behnken once said of his Aug. 2, 2020 return during Demo-2. "The atmosphere makes noise; you can start to hear that rumble outside the vehicle," he said.
Another thing that makes Crew Dragon stand apart is its ability to land on water, which NASA astronauts hadn't experienced since the Apollo-Soyuz program of the 1975. All Americans since then returned on land, either on U.S. soil or in the steppes of Kazakhstan, when using a Soyuz spacecraft (the main astronaut taxi for most of the past decade).
Crew Dragon reentry over Starbase as seen on @NASASpaceflight Starbase Live.https://t.co/YhZS6pd0Ec pic.twitter.com/KVUavfjQtJNovember 9, 2021
Space. Ain’t it something. #SpaceX pic.twitter.com/KoUWrnepLcNovember 9, 2021
In fact, seeing any returning spacecraft at all on U.S. soil is still a novelty given that SpaceX only began to return astronauts again to Florida in 2020, following a nine-year gap that ensued after the space shuttle program's retirement in 2011. Even seasoned reporters were awed by the view of re-entry.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.