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NASA astronauts splash down in SpaceX Dragon capsule

The first mission to send NASA astronauts into orbit on a commercially owned spaceship came back down to Earth today with the splashdown of a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule in the Gulf of Mexico.

“On behalf of the SpaceX and NASA teams, welcome back to planet Earth, and thanks for flying SpaceX,” Mike Heiman, a lead member of SpaceX’s operations team, told astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.

The splashdown closed out a 64-day mission to the International Space Station, aimed at testing the first SpaceX Dragon to carry crew. The reusable spacecraft, which put 27.1 million miles on its orbital odometer, was dubbed Endeavour as a tribute to earlier spaceships.

In May, Endeavour’s launch atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket made history, and today’s return to Earth did as well: It was the first time since 1975 that a crewed NASA spacecraft returned to Earth at sea, and the first-ever space landing in the Gulf of Mexico.

The splashdown marked the completion of the first mission to launch astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil since NASA’s final space shuttle flight in 2011.

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Astronauts dodge hurricane for Dragon homecoming

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule pulled away from the International Space Station today to begin the homeward flight for NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, even as Hurricane Isaias headed for Florida’s Atlantic coast.

Fortunately, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is heading for waters off Florida’s other coast.

Dragon Endeavour undocked from the station at 7:35 p.m. ET (4:35 p.m. PT), on track for a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola, Fla., at 2:48 p.m. ET (11:48 a.m. PT) Sunday. The alternate landing site is closer to Panama City, Fla.

Both sites should be far away from Isaias’ expected track along the United States’ Atlantic seaboard, and the timetable could be adjusted if the weather forecast changes. NASA and SpaceX had made plans for seven potential splashdown targets, but due to Isaias’ strength, NASA concentrated on the westernmost sites.

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NASA’s new head of human spaceflight speaks out

Kathy Lueders
NASA’s Kathy Lueders beams with joy as the hatches are opened between SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and the International Space Station on May 31. (NASA Photo / Joel Kowsky)

NASA’s newly named associate administrator for human exploration and operations, Kathy Lueders, says that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule “has been doing great” at the International Space Station — and that the NASA astronauts who rode it to orbit are likely to come back down to Earth in early August.

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NASA’s Dragon riders capture the flag

Space station crew with flag
NASA astronaut Doug Hurley shows off the U.S. flag that was left aboard the International Space Station in 2011 by the last space shuttle crew. Hurley and Behnken, at left, will take the flag back to Earth with them aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. The space station’s current commander, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, is at right. (NASA via YouTube)

A day after arriving at the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken laid claim to a U.S. flag that symbolizes America’s capability to send people to orbit from U.S. soil.

The handkerchief-sized flag, sealed in a plastic envelope, has been kept aboard the space station since 2011, when NASA’s final space shuttle crew left it behind before making their departure aboard Atlantis.

It was displayed above the Harmony module’s hatch — and, for a time, stored in an equipment bag, nearly forgotten — with instructions that it was to be taken back to Earth by the next crew launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

That moment finally came on May 31, when Hurley and Behnken floated through the Harmony hatch after their launch 19 hours earlier.

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Astronauts reach space station in SpaceX capsule

SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour
A camera mounted on the International Space Station shows SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour capsule hooked up to a port on the station’s Harmony module. (NASA via YouTube)

For the first time in nearly nine years, astronauts have arrived at the International Space Station in a spaceship that was made in the USA.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, which was christened Endeavour soon after Saturday’s launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, hooked up with the station at 7:16 a.m. PT today.

Endeavour brought NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the station’s Harmony port, prompting space station commander Chris Cassidy to ring the naval bell that’s part of the tradition for welcoming space crews.

“Dragon arriving,” Cassidy declared.

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Trump hails SpaceX launch after seeing it firsthand

Donald Trump in VAB
President Donald Trump delivers remarks in Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building with a mockup of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule in the background. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

President Donald Trump held up America’s space effort as a unifying endeavor for a divided nation after becoming only the third sitting president to witness the launch of American astronauts in person.

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Astronauts give their capsule a storied name

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (foreground) and Bob Behnken (background) provide a tour of their Crew Dragon space taxi. (NASA via YouTube)

The two NASA astronauts who rode SpaceX’s first crew-carrying Dragon capsule to orbit today named their spacecraft, continuing a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of America’s space effort.

“I know most of you, at SpaceX especially, know it as Capsule 206,” Hurley said over a space-to-ground video link a few hours after launch. “But I think all of us thought that maybe we could do a little bit better than that. So, without further ado, we would like to welcome you aboard capsule Endeavour.”

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SpaceX sends NASA astronauts on historic trip

Falcon 9 launch
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, sending NASA astronauts into orbit in a Crew Dragon capsule. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

SpaceX launched two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station today, becoming the first company to send humans to orbit on a commercial spaceship.

The Falcon 9 rocket’s liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:22 p.m. ET (12:22 p.m. PT) marked a feat that Americans hadn’t been able to do since NASA retired the space shuttles in 2011: sending astronauts into orbit from a U.S. launch pad rather than relying on the Russians.

“It is absolutely our honor to be part of this huge effort to get the United States back in the launch business,” NASA astronaut Doug Hurley told SpaceX Mission Control just before liftoff.

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Weather complicates SpaceX’s launch plans

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine takes a question during a briefing at Kennedy Space Center’s countdown clock with NASA astronaut Nicole Mann standing behind him. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

NASA and SpaceX are keeping a close eye on the weather in Florida and beyond as they get set for a second attempt to launch two NASA astronauts in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on May 30. Or maybe May 31.

During a briefing held today at the billboard-sized countdown clock at Kennedy Space Center, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said mission managers were weighing whether to skip the first opportunity and go for the one after that instead.

The forecast for May 31 is slightly better, with a 60% chance of acceptable weather as opposed to 50% for May 30. Rain and thick clouds are the primary concerns.

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Weather forces delay for SpaceX crewed launch

Air Force One and SpaceX rocket
Air Force One flies above Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying President Donald Trump to witness SpaceX’s Crew Dragon launch. Liftoff was postponed until Saturday due to weather concerns. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The countdown for SpaceX’s first crewed launch to the International Space Station ran down to less than 17 minutes, but because the weather didn’t cooperate, history will have to wait until May 30 at the earliest.

SpaceX called off the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken sitting inside the Crew Dragon capsule on top, and President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence waiting in the wings. Liftoff would have marked the first-ever use of a privately owned spaceship for a crewed orbital launch, the first launch of NASA astronauts from U.S. soil since the space shuttles were retired in 2011, and the official start of a renaissance for U.S. spaceflight.

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