Astronaut Praises SpaceX Crew Dragon’s Smooth Return Ride Experience
Astronauts part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's (SpaceX) Crew-2 mission that safely returned from the International Space Station (ISS) this month described their experiences on the latter's Crew Dragon vehicle during atmospheric reentry and landing. The Crew-2, an international team of astronauts from North America, Europe and Asia, took to the skies more than six months back. Their return tested the limits of SpaceX's Dragon 2 spacecraft, which is the only American spacecraft capable of sending astronauts into low Earth orbit (LEO).
SpaceX Dragon 2 Has Smoother Landing Than Russian Soyuz Outlines NASA Crew-2 Mission Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide
The astronauts' comments on their travel and the experiments conducted onboard the ISS was made during a teleconference on NASA's YouTube television live stream early morning yesterday. They are the latest in a series of remarks made by nearly every member of the Commercial Crew Program that has flown into space since the Dragon's first crewed spaceflight in 2020.
So far, SpaceX's only crewed spacecraft has carried four crews to the ISS, with the latest flight taking off a mere two days after Crew-2 returned on a separate vehicle. The astronauts' experiences have also been varied but mostly full of praise for the Dragon.
This time around, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Crew-2 astronaut Akihiko Hoshide described what it felt like flying to the ISS and back from it. The international space laboratory is located at an altitude of a little more than 422 kilometers from the Earth's surface, and the crews fly to it on SpaceX's Falcon 9 reusable rocket.
When asked by a reporter about his return journey to Earth, Hoshide replied that the landing was smoother when compared to Russia's Soyuz spacecraft due to splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico despite his fears of feeling nauseous while waiting for the recovery teams.
According to him:
So Shane and I had the privellage of flying three different spacecraft, so the Space Shuttle, the Soyuz spacecraft and the Crew Dragon. So we have experienced the land landing and compared to that splashdown was much much softer I would say. But I was worried after splashdown, you know bobbing on the surface of the ocean and it would make me sick. But I think it was okay for all of us and it was a neat experience just waiting for the rescue team to come on board and we were chatting inside just all four us sharing our moments. So it was a nice time to share some time.
Hoshide mirrored sentiments shared by NASA astronaut Shannon Walker in May following the Crew-1 mission's return to Earth.
During a teleconference, Walker explained that:
Landing in the water was interesting [looks at Glover who smiles] because none of us really knew what to expect. But I would say from my standpoint it felt a little bit softer than landing on land. And, then, having the rocking motion after you land in the water I think we got very lucky with seasickness, it could have been a lot more dramatic than it was. So some subtle differences but a lot of similarities as well.
Hoshide also described his launch experience when he, along with astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur and Thomas Pesquet, flew on the Falcon 9 rocket in April. Their mission, which saw the Crew Dragon spend 200 days in flight, became the longest duration space mission flown by a U.S.-crewed spacecraft.
The astronaut talked about Crew-2 training and shared their experience while the Falcon 9 ascended to the skies and turned off its engines for main engine cutoff.
He described the training and launch experiences to Kyoto News by stating:
So um yeah, so we trained a year prior to launch on the Crew Dragon capsule. But mainly you know Shane and Megan as a commander and a pilot they've been trained how to operate the spacecraft, you know when to take over, what to do if something happens. Thomas and I were more focused on the inside, what to do with the spacesuit and all the cargo packing. And if something happens then how to support Shane and Megan. That training I think was great. You know SpaceX did a great job focusing on what we need. It wasn't a very long training period but nevertheless we got what we needed. The launch and landing itself it's just like another spacecraft, but it was smooth, I think it was more responsive that's what's I remember going up hill, you know the acceleration and deceleration, that was like, it was like a joyride. I still remember that day when up all four of us were whoop, yayy just cheering and giggling all the way until MECO [Main Engine Cutoff].
His crewmate, astronaut Shane Kimbrough had echoed similar experiences in April when he shared that:
It was a fantastic ride I think all of us were sitting on the launchpad for a couple of hours getting ready to go, preparing mentally and somewhat physically as well. And then when the engines lit big smiles came across all of our faces as we felt that power lift us from Earth up into space. It was an incredible ride for the first eight and a half to nine minutes while the boosters were lit. And a lot of G forces, a lot of different sensations our bodies were going through. And then after nine minutes, we were in space, floating around. So pretty cool experience.
The time the Crew-2 Dragon spacecraft spent in orbit before its return came up during an earlier press conference which saw NASA and SpaceX officials explain that the Dragon is certified to spend 210 days in space.
NASA and SpaceX's Crew-3 mission rapidly followed the Crew-2 mission, reaching the ISS in just two days after splashdown. The Crew-3 should spend another six months on the space station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.