NASA crew comes down, Starlink satellites go up during busy morning for SpaceX
Four astronauts are back on the planet after spending nearly six months on the International Space Station, punching through the atmosphere in SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule. Just hours after their safe return, SpaceX launched a batch of its Starlink satellites from Kennedy Space Center.
The Dragon capsule named Endurance undocked from the I.S.S. Thursday. Once the capsule entered the atmosphere, it streaked across Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula toward a pinpoint landing in the Gulf of Mexico. By the time the crew floated down under a canopy of four parachutes, the capsule had slowed to a leisurely 16 mph. The crew spent 177 days in space.
It was the first spaceflight for three of the crewmembers, called Crew-3, including Raja Chari. The Indian-American is the first NASA rookie to command a spaceflight since Joe Engle flew the second space shuttle mission in 1981. NASA's Kayla Baron and Tom Marshburn also on their first space flight made the trip back home with spaceflight veteran and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Mauerer.
NASA pays SpaceX to ferry astronauts to the station. “NASA’s partnership with SpaceX has again empowered us to deliver a crew safely to the space station and back, enabling groundbreaking science that will help our astronauts travel farther out into the cosmos than ever before. This mission is just one more example that we are truly in the golden era of commercial spaceflight,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
Crew-3's relief crew arrived at the station last week, launching on a brand new Crew Dragon capsule from Kennedy Space Center. Dubbed Crew-4, they'll spend another six months at the station, conducting science and maintenance at the orbiting outpost.
Just hours after Crew-3's splashdown, SpaceX's Falcon 9 lit up the Space Coast sky with a launch of a batch of the company's Starlink satellites, aimed at creating a constellation of thousands of high-speed internet satellites -- the first of five scheduled launches in May.
NPR's Russell Lewis contributed to this report.