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After flying toward Earth in a privately built spacecraft for the first time in history, NASA Astronaut Bob Behnken broke down the process of splash landing in the Gulf of Mexico this past weekend.
“I personally was surprised at just how quickly the events all transpired,” said Behnken, who explained that after the de-orbit burn — which sets the spacecraft on course to return home from low-Earth orbit — the SpaceX Dragon Capsule roared to life.
“It started to fire thrusters and keep us pointed in the appropriate direction. The atmosphere starts to make noise,” he said.
“You can hear that rumble from outside the vehicle, and as the vehicle tries to control, you feel a little bit of that shimmy in your body,” said Behnken, explaining that he and his crew-mate, Doug Hurley, were “much better attuned to the environment, so we could feel those small rolls and pitches and yaws. All those little motions were things that we picked up on from inside the vehicle.”
“As we descended through the atmosphere, the thrusters were firing almost continuously,” said the astronaut, also adding: “It doesn’t sound like a machine. It sounds like an animal coming through the atmosphere.”
“With all the puffs that are happening from the thrusters and the atmospheric noise, it just continues to gain magnitude as you descend down through the atmosphere,” he said.
According to Time Magazine, Dragon Capsule “went from a screaming orbital speed of 17,500 mph (28,000 kph) to 350 mph (560 kph) during atmospheric reentry,” and the exterior of the capsule reached temperatures as high as 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Inside the craft, the two astronauts reportedly felt gravity between 4-5 times that felt on Earth.
To slow its descent to the splash-down speed of 15 mph, the spacecraft deployed multiple parachutes, which Behnken described as “very much like getting hit in the back of the chair with a baseball bat.”
“With the parachutes it was a pretty significant jolt, and a couple of jolts as you go through the disreefing of the parachutes as well,” he added.
Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Mexico, so-called fast-boats waiting for the astronauts to splash land prepared themselves to start the recovery process.
Shortly before splashdown, the GPS altimeter registered their altitude as below zero, an inaccuracy Behnken explained can happen on such a device.
“So we got to below zero for our altitude on that indicator, which was a little bit surprising, and then we felt a splash and we saw it splash up over the windows,” he said. Behnken later added that the SpaceX team prepared them well for the journey, and the sounds they would hear, which made them comfortable even though “it felt like we were inside of an animal.”
— NASA (@NASA) August 4, 2020
As The Daily Wire previously reported, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine was enthusiastic about the success of the mission, and revealed that he believes, as as a result, space will become more accessible than ever.
“We are entering a new era of human spaceflight, where NASA is no longer the purchaser, owner, and operator of all the hardware. We are going to be a customer,” he said. “One customer of many customers, in a very robust commercial marketplace for human spaceflight to low-Earth orbit.”
Elon Musk, the chief engineer and CEO of SpaceX, was even more enthusiastic. “We’re going to go to the moon, we’re going to have a base on the moon, we’re going to send people to Mars and make life multi-planetary.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the “top speed” of the Dragon Capsule. It has been corrected to note that the orbital speed of Dragon Capsule was approximately 17,500 mph.