How was the ride? That’s what everyone wants to know from the three NASA astronauts and one Japanese astronaut who arrived home via SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft this week.
NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi became the first long-duration crew to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Florida and arrive at the International Space Station in their capsule Dragon Resilience.
The Crew-1 mission astronauts arrived back on Earth early Sunday morning during the first nighttime splashdown in over 50 years. They had been on station since their November launch from Kennedy Space Center.
After recovery teams retrieved the Dragon from the Gulf of Mexico, the astronauts were then flown home to be reunited with their families in Houston.
For the first time since their journey, the Crew-1 astronauts talked to reporters about their nearly 6-month mission and the experience flying with SpaceX under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Three out of four astronauts said they were ready to go again.
Glover, a first time space flyer, said he’s not quite ready to go right back up yet but his zero-gravity experience was awe-inspiring for all 167 days.
“It‘s actually, it’s like living your dreams about flying, you know, being able to actually be in those moments where you can push off and just coast down the space,” Glover said of floating in space.
Walker, who has also flown on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft which lands on solid ground, said the splashdown landing was a little softer.
“None of us really knew what to expect but I would say from my standpoint, it felt a little bit softer than landing on land, and then having the rocking motion after you land in the water,” Walker said, adding luckily the seas were not rough.
Noguchi reflected on being able to greet his fellow JAXA astronaut, Aki Hoshide and the other Crew-2 astronauts when they arrived on station about a week ago.
“It’s a joy, and it’s especially fun if you know the person well and I’ve known Aki for almost 25 years now, so it’s good to have him on board, he obviously he’s experienced, and he’s now a great commander,” Noguchi said.
It marked the first time two Japanese astronauts were on station at the same time. Hoshide took over command of the station from Walker, also a first for his country.
All four astronauts agreed the food was pretty good in space. Astronauts do get to request some items of their choice and they often share.
Glover said Hopkins brought along one of the most popular items: refried beans.
“Hopper was smart enough to fly refried beans and refried beans were popular for two reasons: They were great. They were delicious, but they’re also good at sticking other foods together so they were a very popular side dish,” Glover said referring to Hopkins’ nickname.
Hopkins, commander of the Crew-1 flight, arguably had the best view during his space station stay living on the Dragon Resilience spacecraft. For him, one of his most memorable moments was moving the spacecraft to another port on the ISS to make room for the incoming Dragon Endeavour spacecraft to arrive. He and the other Crew-1 astronauts boarded the capsule and moved it together. The process went smoothly and according to schedule.
“One of the reasons I say I think that is such an important part is because there’s going to be a lot of vehicle traffic coming up to the International Space Station over the next four or five years,” Hopkins said. “There’s going to be a need to move vehicles around, and so having this capability, I think is going to be extremely important and I would certainly say that was one of the highlights of the mission.”
SpaceX returned human spaceflight to Florida’s coast last year with the launch of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. The company is contracted with NASA to launch six missions to the ISS. Its second long-duration mission launched more than a week ago from Florida with the Crew-2 astronauts and the Crew-3 launch is planned for this fall.
The Resilience capsule is set to be refurbished and fitted with a new special cupola ahead of its next flight, the first all-civilian mission for SpaceX’s spacecraft.
Businessman Jared Isaacman is flying a St. Jude’s physician and two contest winners for the Inspiration 4 flight launching in September.
Asked how the civilians will be able to handle the g-forces during launch and landing, Hopkins said they will have some idea of what’s coming after time in the centrifuge.
“They’re going to get to experience some of those G profiles and so it’s not going to be completely unique to them,” Hopkins said, adding NASA astronauts go through similar training in simulators. “I think that they’re going to be able to handle it.”
Glover, a test pilot, said experiencing launch and landing was more dynamic than his previous experiences in a jet.
“Launching and entry are such unique experiences, and then to couple that with living in microgravity and experiencing weightlessness for 167 days,” Glover said.
The astronauts were subjected to about 4.5 G-forces during landing for about a minute.
“I felt really heavy,” Glover said. “I felt like those cartoons when they experience Gs and your face is just sagging down, but it was, it was very dynamic.”