CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule cruised into its home port Friday evening (Aug. 7), secured to one of the company’s recovery vessels.
Onlookers gathered at Jetty Park (while social distancing) in anticipation of the Crew Dragon’s arrival after the capsule's historic splashdown on Aug. 2 that returned NASA astronauts Bob Benken and Doug Hurley to Earth. The mission, SpaceX's first crewed flight, was NASA's first orbital crewed flight from U.S. soil since 2011.
Jetty Park — a popular launch viewing location — is located at the mouth of the port, and all marine traffic comes through this point. Typically packed with excited space fans waiting to see a launch, Jetty Park has been closed during most of the pandemic, but recently reopened in phases.
The SpaceX recovery ship carrying Crew Dragon, named GO Navigator, pulled into port just after 5:30 p.m. EST (2130 GMT) on Friday. Crew members on board the ship waved at onlookers as the vessel made its short trek through the channel.
The ship and Crew Dragon were quickly moved into a U.S. Navy submarine basin, where the vehicle would be offloaded and transported to SpaceX's Cape Canaveral facilities. (Typically, when SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket first stages arrive in port after landing on one of the company’s drone ships, the boosters are towed to SpaceX's dock, further into the port).
Friday's arrival wrapped up SpaceX’s historic first crewed mission, that began when astronauts Behnken and Hurley blasted off from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on May 30. Just over two months ago, a shiny new Falcon 9 rocket, adorned with NASA's retro worm logo, lofted the capsule into orbit. Crew Dragon then spent about a day chasing down the International Space Station, before delivering Behnken and Hurley to the orbiting outpost.
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The duo spent a total of 63 days on station, assisting fellow NASA astronaut, Chris Cassidy, with station maintenance, research experiments, and even a series of spacewalks.
Crew Dragon departed the space station Saturday evening (Aug. 1), splashing down off the coast of Pensacola, in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:48 p.m. EST (1848 GMT) on Sunday (Aug. 2). Recovery crews were waiting to pluck the capsule — its previous stark white exterior now resembling a toasted marshmallow — out of the water and haul it back to shore.
GO Navigator met the Dragon and hoisted the capsule aboard shortly after splashdown. After a series of checkouts, recovery teams opened the craft’s hatch at 3:59 p.m. EDT (1959 GMT), extracting the two astronauts about 10 minutes later.
Once the astronauts were safely offloaded, GO Navigator began its journey back to Port Canaveral. The craft sailed around the Florida peninsula, arriving back at its home dock five days later. With the help of marine traffic sites, space enthusiasts were able to track Dragon on its journey home.
It was a bright, beautiful Florida afternoon as SpaceX's Dragon-toting vessel appeared on the horizon, it’' white paint gleaming in the sunlight. As the distance between GO Navigator and her awaiting fans closed, Crew Dragon came into view. Peeking out from the stern of the ship, Dragon's scorched appearance was visible as the vessel approached the Navy basin.
Once Dragon is offloaded, SpaceX engineers will take it apart so they can analyze how it performed. The craft is scheduled to fly again next spring, and this time with a crew of four. NASA officials expect to certify the craft for regular astronaut flights as soon as the end of this month. That certification will greenlight SpaceX's next crew of astronauts to fly on a long-duration mission to the space station.
In the meantime, SpaceX's drone ship, Of Course I Still Love You, is expected to return to port in a few days. Early Friday (Aug. 7), the company launched one of its Falcon 9 rockets, carrying a stack of Starlink satellites into space along with two small satellites for Black Sky Global.
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