SpaceX released a video on Tuesday that chronicles its Demo-2 mission, the first crewed flight of its Crew Dragon spaceship. The mission carried NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to and from the International Space Station, and it went remarkably smoothly – an outcome that felt somewhat out-of-keeping with this turbulent year on Earth.
"We hope it brings a little bit of brightness to a pretty tough 2020," Hurley says at the end of the video.
The never-before-broadcast footage shows Behnken and Hurley driving to the launch site at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. After giving thumbs-ups to onlookers, the two astronauts board the Crew Dragon.
"Three...two...one...ignition, liftoff," Mission Control says. Then SpaceX's Falcon-9 rocket ignites.
Once they enter space, Behnken does a backflip as a stuffed sequined dinosaur floats around the capsule. "Tremor the Apatosaurus" was the latest in a long line of stuffed animals that astronauts have brought into space as zero-gravity indicators; when the toys start to float, observers know the ship has entered microgravity.
The video also shows the moments after Crew Dragon docked with the space station, when the astronauts met up with the members of Expedition 63. The montage ends with their return to Earth: A small white capsule shrieks through the atmosphere, then its parachutes deploy, slowing it to a gentle splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.
You can watch the full video below:
SpaceX is learning from Demo-2 to make its next mission smoother
As test missions go, Demo-2 was remarkably hassle-free.
"The greatest surprise is that this mission was as smooth as it is," Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX's president and COO, said after Behnken and Hurley's splashdown.
Astronaut Bob Behnken pushes aside a plush dinosaur toy floating around the cabin of the Crew Dragon as it reaches low-Earth orbit, May 30, 2020. NASA TV
Still, the mission wasn't without snags. For instance, once the Crew Dragon landed, its thrusters began emitting toxic fumes. Throngs of boats carrying tourists and onlookers also ignored commands to keep their distance.
These problems serve as learning opportunities for NASA and SpaceX as they prepare for the next crewed mission in their partnership, Crew-1. That's scheduled to launch at 2:40 a.m. ET on October 31.
From top left: Shannon Walker, Soichi Noguchi, Victor Glover, and Michael Hopkins pose with SpaceX founder Elon Musk and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Jim Bridenstine/NASA
That crew includes NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Mike Hopkins, and Victor Glover, as well as Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi. Hopkins is slated to be the mission's commander, Glover the pilot, and Walker and Noguchi mission specialists.
The Demo-2 astronauts have already offered some words of wisdom for that group. Hopkins said Hurley warned him about the shocking speed of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere.
"His comment about entry was, 'It happens fast,'" Hopkins said in a press briefing on Tuesday. "From the time the de-orbit sequence starts, the entry sequence starts, to when you touch down is very fast."
"For me, that means I need to make sure that we, as a crew, are ready for it," Hopkins added. "When things happen fast, you need to be anticipating."
But minor issues and surprises aside, NASA and SpaceX officials are mostly hoping for a repeat of Demo-2's success later this fall.
"It will be a great mission if Crew-1 goes exactly the same way," Kathy Lueders, NASA's head of human spaceflight, said during the Tuesday briefing. "I'm counting on a beautiful mission."
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