Watch Astronauts Travel At 17,500 Mph & 3,500°F Courtesy SpaceX

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After its fourth crewed mission for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) successfully came to an end earlier today, Hawthorne, California based aerospace launch and services provider Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) and NASA shared breathtaking visuals of the Crew Dragon spacecraft reentering the Earth's atmosphere and landing off of the Florida coast. Onboard Crew Dragon were NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron and the European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer, who completed a six month stay on the International Space Station (ISS).

SpaceX Dragon Visible As A Streak In The Sky As Crew-3 Re-enter Earth After Spending Six Months In Space

As part of its return mission profile, the Crew Dragon capsule has to perform several steps before it is ready to splash down on Earth. The first of these involves the capsule preparing itself to enter the Earth's atmosphere, by closing its nose cone and jettisoning its trunk. The ship's cone opens to allow it to connect with the ISS, and let the astronauts aboard the orbiting space laboratory. Additionally, the trunk is separated to burn up in the atmosphere to allow the vehicle to save mass and propellant for its crucial deorbit burn which is the first step towards the hot and fast journey to the surface.

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Once the deorbit burn is finished and the nose cone is closed, Dragon enters the Earth's atmosphere at an eye-popping speed of 17,500 miles-per-hour (mph). During this time, the capsule's heat shield, which has been developed by SpaceX via a NASA technology spin-off, is responsible for ensuring that the vehicle is not destroyed as it reaches blistering temperatures that go as high as 3,500°F. The heat shield also helps the spacecraft to slow down to 350 mph.

One of the images shared by SpaceX shows the reentry process, with the Crew Dragon visible as a bright streak in the starry night sky.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon with the Crew-3 inside reenters the Earth's atmosphere on Friday, May 6, 2022. Image: SpaceX

A Twitter user from Mexico was lucky enough to spot the Dragon as it was reentering the atmosphere and alert enough to capture the entire event on video. This clip, shared on his account, shows the spacecraft leaving a blazing streak behind it as heads to the United States.

After reentry, the Dragon has to significantly slow down its speed before landing to ensure that the crew remains safe. In order to achieve this, the spacecraft uses two different parachutes. The first of these is the drogue parachutes that deploy at 18,000 feet, and they are responsible for slowing down the vehicle to 119 mph from 350 mph. Their job is to make the primary parachutes much lighter, as otherwise, they would be heavier than the combined weight of the drogue and the main parachutes.

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Once the Dragon reaches an altitude of 6,500 feet, its main parachutes open up and take up the responsibility of slowing down the vehicle to 15 mph. For the Crew-3 mission, the main parachutes deployed when the Dragon was traveling at its expected velocity.

During reentry, the crew can also manually deploy the drogues, even though the process is fully automated. SpaceX also communicates with them the timing of the deployment, so that the astronauts can brace themselves for the change to the vehicle's speed. Their seats also automatically rotate to 26° during reentry just prior to the drogue deployment. This is done to ensure that the g-force experienced by the astronauts is tolerable. Without the drogues, the Crew Dragon's main parachutes would be three times "stronger and heavier" explained a SpaceX broadcaster during the live feed.

Of course, NASA didn't hold back sharing some of its own photos either, as it provided us with more glimpses of the spacecraft during reentry and after splashdown.

You can take a look at the full set of images of the Crew-3 return here.

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