Astronauts tell of their Dragon’s “animal” descent through the atmosphere

HOUSTON | SpaceX’s manned capsule is not called Dragon for nothing: the two NASA astronauts on Earth brought back on board on Sunday said on Tuesday they had the impression, crossing the atmosphere at more than 20,000 km / h, to travel through the bowels of a formidable beast.

“When we re-entered the atmosphere, the thrusters were igniting almost continuously,” said Bob Behnken at a virtual press conference from Houston, Texas, where they returned after they ditched off Florida. Sunday. “The atmosphere begins to make noise, you wait for the rumble outside the vehicle, and as the vehicle tries to control itself, you feel like a waddle in the body.”

“The noise did not sound like that of a machine, but that made by an animal,” continued the 50-year-old astronaut. “Going through the atmosphere, with all the thrusters, and the atmospheric noise that gets louder as you descend, that’s something we both really noticed.”

“We really felt like we were inside an animal,” repeated the engineer, usually reluctant to metaphors.

The two men, best friends in life and each married to an astronaut, answered journalists’ questions as tradition dictates two days after their safe return from a two-month stay on the International Space Station. The success of their test mission, the first of SpaceX’s Dragon with passengers, is very likely to lead to the official certification of the vehicle for regular NASA astronaut shipping as early as September.

“The mission took place like in the simulators, from start to finish, frankly, there were no surprises,” said Doug Hurley, 53, who like his friend had traveled on board in the 2000s. space shuttles, shut down in 2011. Both had been training with SpaceX for five years.

“My compliments to SpaceX and the NASA Commercial Flight Program, the vehicle behaved exactly as expected,” said Doug Hurley.

The two said they were prepared in great detail for all aspects of the mission, and in particular for the perilous phase of the return. The opening of the parachutes, which abruptly slowed the fall of the capsule, gave the sensation of “a baseball bat hit the back of a chair,” according to Bob Behken.

The landing was “pretty firm,” but as expected, said Doug Hurley.

One person in particular will benefit very directly from Bob Behnken’s experience feedback: astronaut Megan McArthur, who will travel in spring 2021 aboard the same capsule, and who is his wife.

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