There was once a time, around half a century or so ago, when a crew returning from space would’ve been appointment viewing and had the world’s undivided attention. Nowadays however, it seems, rather morbidly, that the only time a returning space flight is on our radar is if something has gone wrong. It might because of that that NASA and SpaceX thought they could sneak a crew back into our world in the middle of the night without anyone batting an eye. Well, they couldn’t get this one past us, as the ‘after dark’ touchdown marked a little bit of NASA history that we think worth highlighting.
The four astronauts, who arrived back on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Resilience at 2:56am ET on Sunday morning, had been stationed at the International Space Station for almost six months. They were scheduled to be ending their stint and arriving back on home soil on Saturday afternoon, however, a bit of characteristically unpredictable Florida weather saw the return flight delayed. The result was an arrival that made a little bit of history, as the early hours splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico marked NASA’s first night-time landing since Apollo 8 returned in similar fashion, 53 years prior. On top, making for an interesting trivia fact, the successful mission marks a big triumph for the partnership between NASA and SpaceX, who have been working together on the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) since 2011. This was the first manned mission of the program, and the safe return of all four astronauts gets the program off to an ideal start.
The after dark return made some fantastic visuals, as infrared cameras spotted the capsule’s return. To the uneducated eye, it might’ve looked like just another shimmering star in the vast night sky. To NASA and SpaceX, one might say it was symbolic of a bright future for the collaborative project, which has plenty more ambitious plans that were reliant on this first effort coming out as a success.
Once it was clear that the landing had been a success, SpaceX Mission Control reporting jibed “We welcome you back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX. For those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer programme, you’ve earned 68 million miles on this voyage.” You’d have to feel for anyone who forgot to register beforehand.
Top image credit – NASA/Bill Ingalls
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