The fourth long-duration astronaut team launched by SpaceX to the International Space Station (ISS) safely returned to Earth on Friday. It splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida after completing the agency’s fourth commercial crew mission of research to the International Space Station. The crew spent 170 days in orbit, NASA said.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Freedom, was carrying NASA astronauts Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, Jessica Watkins and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson welcomed the crew and said they conducted “science for the benefit of all”. “Their work aboard the orbiting laboratory will help prepare future explorers for future space missions,” Nelson added. “Working and living on the space station is the opportunity of a lifetime, but it also requires these explorers to make sacrifices, especially time away from loved ones. Kjell, Bob, Jessica and Samantha, thank you for your contributions over the past six months to science, innovation, and discovery,” the space agency quoted Nelson as saying.
Jessica 1st African-American woman to join long-duration mission
Freedom began its stay in orbit on April 27. NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins became the first African-American woman to join a long-duration ISS mission. “Hines, Lindgren, Watkins, and Cristoforetti travelled 72,168,935 miles during their mission…and completed 2,720 orbits around Earth,” NASA said. “Lindgren has logged 311 days in space over his two flights, and with the completion of their flight today, Cristoforetti has logged 369 days in space on her two flights, making her second on the all-time list for most days in space by a woman. The Crew-4 mission was the first spaceflight for Hines and Watkins,” it added.
High temperature re-entry
The return from orbit followed a fiery re-entry plunge through Earth’s atmosphere generating frictional heat that sent temperatures outside the capsule soaring to 1,930 degrees Celsius. Two sets of parachutes billowed open above the capsule in the final stage of descent, slowing its fall to about 15 miles per hour (24 kph) before the craft hit the water off Jacksonville, Reuters reported.
Highlights included research on microgravity-induced changes in human cells resembling those associated with ageing, and documenting effects of dietary improvements in orbit on immune function, gastrointestinal health and nutrition indicators. They also participated in studies of fire and fuel behaviour in weightlessness, and cultivation of plants in liquid and air-based growth materials in place of soil.