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ISS NASA Space Science

After Trip to ISS, SpaceX's Dragon Capsule Returns Safely To Earth 150

Posted by timothy
from the congratulations-all-around dept.
thomas.kane writes "SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft has successfully reentered and is now safely in the waters of the Pacific Ocean after more than 9 days in space. The Dragon capsule became the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station on May 25; SpaceX is contracted by NASA for at least 12 more flights in the coming months bringing supplies to the space station and returning science done on board back to Earth." Reader MightyMartian adds a link to coverage at the BBC.
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After Trip to ISS, SpaceX's Dragon Capsule Returns Safely To Earth

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  • by BagOBones (574735) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @12:26PM (#40168327)

    Touched down intact, but I wouldn't declare it safe till they recover it and open it... Re-entry is a bitch...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Metabolife (961249)

      You can clearly see that it splashed down about a minute earlier than their estimate in the following video. They quickly took the time down and never mentioned it again... A minute's worth of miscalculation at 1000km/s could be a big fast mistake.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWBFeZv5Kvw [youtube.com]

      • *km/h

      • by yurtinus (1590157) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @02:04PM (#40169787)
        Then again, a minutes worth of miscalculation while dangling from a *parachute* might not be as much "mistake" as "acceptable margin of error"
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The chute opened basically exactly on schedule. That's where you go from precise de-orbit calculations to dealing with localized weather. The chute was open for about 5 minutes, travel speed was about 12 mph with the chutes open. If they had expected a 2-3 mph updraft but didn't get one, then that explains the water landing being a minute or so early. Really no concern here.

      • by MojoRilla (591502) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @02:50PM (#40170563)
        Elon just answered that they were off by a few seconds because of wind. He said that if it weren't for wind, they could land Dragon in someone's backyard.
      • Video is fascinating. Appears to be analog video. Amazing that they can track the thing well enough to catch it on video with high-power lenses (if you've ever tried to manually track anything with high power lenses, you get a sense of how difficult it is, so probably must be automated tracking), and yet... the recording equipment apparently is not state of the art.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 31, 2012 @12:27PM (#40168339)

    This is most excelent news. I, for one, welcome our new private sector space overlords!

  • by Sgs-Cruz (526085) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @12:28PM (#40168359) Homepage Journal

    This is fantastic news. I don't care what you think of space policy or anything, this is a good day for everybody.

    Now, let's see NASA make good on their promise to hand over LEO to the private sector so they can think about Mars and beyond!

    • by scubamage (727538)
      Agreed, if they verify everything is in tact this is an industry-making day. I wish all the best to SpaceX!
    • Now, let's see NASA make good on their promise to hand over LEO to the private sector so they can think about Mars and beyond!

      I hope the hell they don't - there's plenty of useful work to be done in LEO yet. (Even though it doesn't give space fanbois any wood.)

      • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @02:33PM (#40170285) Homepage

        I hope the hell they don't - there's plenty of useful work to be done in LEO yet. (Even though it doesn't give space fanbois any wood.)

        I hope to hell they do -- by doing all the useful work in LEO that will enable it, like orbital refueling depots or even shipyards. Getting to LEO is what needs to be handed off.

        If we can make access to LEO routine and cheap (relatively speaking), and allow NASA to develop LEO capabilities instead of wasting all their money on pork launchers so they can start their missions from components launched to LEO on commodity rockets, then we can make getting to the Moon trivial, and Mars easy enough that it's conceivable to do without stopping all other NASA work.

        This is my dream, and it could happen. Crazy.

      • Same thing though - let them focus on things that no-one else can do just as efficiently but cheaper. In other words, the non-commercially-viable stuff. That's the kind of thing government projects are for.

        The only problem is that Congress is more likely to just cut NASA budget on the grounds that they can now save by using SpaceX...

    • by Moheeheeko (1682914) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @12:45PM (#40168639)
      The funny thing is, SpaceX is already looking to Mars. The heat shield is designed to survive re-entry from a deep space trajectory.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        That's OK, NASA would contract someone to build it anyway. They can contract SpaceX to go to Mars and SpaceX can also help exploit LEO without NASA's direction.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Lets not assume 1 success means 'turning over' LEO the next day.

      And the will never turn over LEO completely. They will always monitor it and dictate policy. As they should.

    • by demachina (71715)

      If you actually want to go to Mars and beyond you need to fix that to:

      Let's see NASA funnel money and contracts to help SpaceX build a reusable Falcon Heavy, long duration crew modules to attach to Dragon, etc.

      NASA, Lockheed and Boeing, in their current form, simply aren't going to succeed in bending metal, building new launchers or probably designing anything usable. I think its open to debate if they have the fire in their belly necessary to do anything hard. As long as they get paid even when they fai

  • by OttoM (467655)
    Never knew they took safety with them.
  • by stox (131684) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @12:34PM (#40168453) Homepage

    The beginning of a new age of space exploration.

    Now stop goofing off, and start building Discovery already. I have monoliths that need checking out.

    • The beginning of a new age of space exploration.

      SpaceX is doing space exploration in the same sense that trucking companies do land exploration.

      • Most explorers were "truckers" of their era.
        • Most explorers were "truckers" of their era.

          Most explorers explored to serve the interests of regular commerce like "truckers", but they weren't carrying cargo to a already-known place by an established route through previously explored territority. Or, at least, when they did that, it wasn't called "exploration", even if they did that as well as exploration.

      • by cfulton (543949) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @01:52PM (#40169631)
        Truckers is just what we need. In order for space exploration to be successful we need boring, easily repeated, safe access to LOE. If they can make LOE boring and trucker like then we have a much better chance of getting past LOE. Until then every flight into space beyond earth will have weight and power constraints placed on it be the launch vehicle. Once shipping to LOE is easy and cheap we can build ships that are no longer constrained by the need to be completely contained in the payload compartment of the launch vehicle.
    • by couchslug (175151)

      "I have monoliths that need checking out."

      Exploration is best done by probes. Figuring out how to sustain humans in space is best done by short-range manned missions.

      The two are different. There being no urgency to put meat in space before developing the machines which will be required (forever) for man to interact with the completely hostile environment of space, send robots first. We need those on Terra too.

      This would separate exploration from entertainment while letting "tourists" buy the ride of their d

  • Observation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @12:43PM (#40168607)

    In digging around various information sources on Dragon, I noticed something odd: It appears in this [wikipedia.org]photo that the capsule is equipped with standard red/green navigation lights [wikipedia.org]. Are these actual nav lights? Are they an FAA requirement?

    • Re:Observation (Score:5, Interesting)

      by weiserfireman (917228) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @12:48PM (#40168701) Homepage

      interesting

      But I would imagine it has to do more with docking the spaceship rather than reentry. The way they are both oriented on the same side is what makes me believe that.

      Red/green lights are normally located on opposite sides of the aircraft/ship so that you can tell which direction it is going at night.

      • by Talderas (1212466)

        Fly upside down.

      • Frequently, there is a combined red/green light [gstatic.com] on the bow of a ship. The way it works is this [sailcorp.com.au]: Looking down on the boat and imagining a clock face with the 12 at the front of the boat, from 12 o'clock to (roughly) 4 o'clock would be green. 4 o'clock to (roughly) 8 o'clock would be white, and 8 o'clock to 12 o'clock would be red. Except 8 and 4 are 120 degrees from 12, but the red and green lights only shine through a horizontal angle of 112.5 degrees. The white stern light covers 135 degrees.
    • Re:Observation (Score:5, Informative)

      by camperdave (969942) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @01:07PM (#40169005) Journal
      I'm not sure about the navigation lights themselves, but Dragon did have a strobe light that the ISS crew could turn on and off. It served the dual purpose of allowing them to find the craft, and it acted as a confirmation that the Dragon was receiving and processing commands from the ISS.
    • Given that you would need that type of lighting on a craft i would bet that the whole Red/Green thing is saving the amount of needed thought for the various operators

      "Okay we need it with White on top Red on Left and Green on the right ... okay looks good ... keep coming ...."

      • by slew (2918)

        Well maybe (white on tail , red on left, green on right).

        I originally thought the spatial separation for the red and green isn't very high (just either side of the solar panel on one side of the dragon trunk) which makes it only visible from one orientation so it's not very useful at all, but if you assume they are only using it for docking with people in control having it be something common is a good idea to save brainspace...

        FWIW, I think the russian module uses flashing nav lights for automatic docking

    • Stupid Wikipedia (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Chibi Merrow (226057) * <mrmerrowNO@SPAMmonkeyinfinity.net> on Thursday May 31, 2012 @02:29PM (#40170191) Homepage Journal

      I read your post and immediately thought "How did he link to the Wikipedia article and not see where it mentions piloted spacecraft?" only to find out someone deleted all references to spacecraft in January with no explanation.

      You can see the previous [wikipedia.org] version here.

      My understanding is that manned, piloted spacecraft are supposed to have nav lights on them. The Shuttle didn't have them because the FAA gave them a waiver and special airspace.

      • by PPH (736903)

        and piloted spacecraft, a red light will be mounted on the left or port side of the craft and a green on the right or starboard side. These help two craft in a situation in which their paths cross determine who has right-of-way.

        Think they have enough time at orbital speeds to visually determine who has the right of way and act on it?

        There was a sci-fi writer/director who pointed this out (in one of his own movies). Two spacecraft were passing at a 'leisurely' rate, such that the occupants of one could watch the other pass and take note of its configuration/markings out their window (porthole). In reality, interplanetary travel would dictate that, unless you want to spend a few lifetimes getting anywhere, the whole experience woul

        • Think they have enough time at orbital speeds to visually determine who has the right of way and act on it?

          If there is enough time for a sluggish, human operated, mechanical arm to leisurely reach out and grab the spacecraft, then I'd say there's enough time to look out of a port and visually determine by the navigation lights whether the craft is in the right orientation. Orbital speeds don't mean squat if the two spacecraft are in roughly the same orbit. Besides, maybe the navigation lights are not about what's happening in space. Maybe they're about what's happening when the craft is bobbing around in the

        • Think they have enough time at orbital speeds to visually determine who has the right of way and act on it?

          Oh I thought the same thing when I first read the wikipedia article years ago. But if there's one thing I've learned in four years of working with the FAA, rules often aren't based on reality, much less sense...

  • That should be the title of the soon to be released documentary.
  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @12:59PM (#40168887)

    Had to be the video of the astronauts opening up the space capsule with the required safety goggles and masks. If something failed and an astronaut got sucked into space I am sure his final words would have been "The goggles, they do nothing...".

    Its great to see private enterprise enter the space race now, maybe NASA will stop billing $20k for a toilet seat and $30k for a hammer because SpaceX can get them at Walmart for $5 a piece.

    • by tibit (1762298)

      They wouldn't get sucked anywhere unless there was an explosive failure of the pressurized shell that would break it apart. A hole/crack may suck all the air out, but it won't suck you out unless you put yourself right against it, and even then it must be big enough to generate sufficient shears to break apart your tissues.

    • by 0123456 (636235) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @02:42PM (#40170417)

      Had to be the video of the astronauts opening up the space capsule with the required safety goggles and masks.

      In microgravity, loose things float around. If something sharp came loose inside the Dragon, you don't want it to get in your eye. In an environment that's been entirely sealed for days, material outgassing or particulate breakdown can cause hazards which wouldn't be a problem on Earth because air movement would carry it away. So goggles and masks make sense.

      Its great to see private enterprise enter the space race now, maybe NASA will stop billing $20k for a toilet seat and $30k for a hammer because SpaceX can get them at Walmart for $5 a piece.

      Which is fine until the toxic outgassing from your $5 Chinese toilet seat poisons the atmosphere over the next month and kills the crew.

      One of the reasons space is legitimately expensive is because many things become complex when you don't have any gravity and are living in a sealed environment.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Its great to see private enterprise enter the space race now, maybe NASA will stop billing $20k for a toilet seat and $30k for a hammer because SpaceX can get them at Walmart for $5 a piece.

        Which is fine until the toxic outgassing from your $5 Chinese toilet seat poisons the atmosphere over the next month and kills the crew.

        Spend the savings on the $20k toilet seats and $30k hammers on installing and lifting an additional carbon filter. I suspect there will still be some money left over.
        In all seriousness, there is a lot of pork that goes on when the government gets involved that private investors won't stand for.

  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Thursday May 31, 2012 @01:00PM (#40168901)
    SpaceX has just announced the great success of its new heat shield technology. It turns out they were burning facebook shares to protect the craft.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    SpaceX has several flights of dragon and one sat coming later this year. The question becomes does SpaceX have their QA in line to handle these without errors. Likewise, can they launch the dragons on-time (in august and dec)? If they get it on-time, then I have little doubt that they will succeed next year.
    Do note that SpaceX is suppose to launch a sat on the F9 in Oct. I would not be surprised to see them carry that through to next year. The reason is that they will have to make sure that sat release is
    • by tibit (1762298)

      Agreed on the Heavy requiring due diligence. The cost of losing one is close to the cost of losing three F9s.

  • by Prune (557140) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @01:05PM (#40168983)
    It would be interesting to see if the human expansion into space eventually ushers in further extension of the extremes of inequality, with the first trillionaires (as measured in today's currency, adjusted for inflation) being, say, asteroid mining tycoons. I don't yet have much of an opinion here; I'm more interested on reading others' thoughts on this.
    • by tsotha (720379)

      One of the reasons there hasn't been much commercial interest in space is there's no way to make money. Under no conceivable scenario is it going to be cheaper to mine asteroids and ship back the product than to just mine the stuff here on the earth. You might want to mine asteroids if you want to build something in orbit or at a Lagrange point, but then the question becomes "what are you building that's going to eventually return a profit?"

      Now, maybe, hundreds of years from now there will actually be pe

      • by khallow (566160)

        Under no conceivable scenario is it going to be cheaper to mine asteroids and ship back the product than to just mine the stuff here on the earth.

        That's a problem the brain trust at Slashdot can easily fix. So let's make the inconceivable, conceivable.

        Step 1: Make a self-replicating factory, say in the 1 ton size range, launch it, and land it on Eros or some other relatively large Earth-crossing asteroid. Note that this is the sole physical Earth-side input to the asteroid in question. I doubt it'd cost more than a few hundred million dollars once we discover mechanical self-replication.

        Step 2: Make a bunch of copies of this factory. The number

        • by tsotha (720379)

          Well, okay. But it's going to be a few hundred years before we have that kind of technology. Everybody was holding their breath last week on a mission that launched from the earth and came within a few meters of the ISS. You're talking about stuff that we couldn't begin to design with our current technology.

          Besides, while I can envision robots building a smelter for iron ore and maybe even producing steel girders for construction, it's not so easy to imagine the robot horde is going to have access to t

          • by khallow (566160)

            But it's going to be a few hundred years before we have that kind of technology.

            We've had this technology for millennia, though specialized for the Earth environment. Cramming it into a one ton device for use on an extraterrestrial body is a bit of effort, but I don't see the part where we'll need a few centuries.

            I think we're probably ten to twenty years out from building a 3D printer for the tabletop that can work on Earth using a somewhat contrived set of raw materials and build copies of itself.

    • by lgw (121541)

      Extremes of inequality as compared to what? We're freaking egalitarian right now compared to most of history -heck, we've nearly eliminated slavery in America, and the poor here (per an article yesterday) have the problem of too many easy sources of electronic entertainment. The long-term trend isn't going the way you seem to think it is ...

  • by k6mfw (1182893) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @01:28PM (#40169295)

    Imagine what that would be like of a successful and safe flight of Dragon carrying people to and from ISS. SpaceX may even beat a crewed Orion (so far they are ahead in terms of actually flying something). There are many critics saying it cannot be done, but reminds me back in usenet days, someone posted a story of a sci-fi author who noted names and home phone numbers of every journalist that denigrated Apollo program during 1960s. Then while really drunk while Neil and Buzz walked the surface of the moon, and in middle of the night he called these journalists on the phone, yelled, "Ya dumb son-of-a-bitch!" and hung up.

    Anyone collecting names and phone numbers?

    • by Megane (129182)

      Arthur Dent? Arthur Philip Dent?

      You're a jerk. A complete kneebiter.

    • by nitehawk214 (222219) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @02:33PM (#40170257)

      Imagine what that would be like of a successful and safe flight of Dragon carrying people to and from ISS. SpaceX may even beat a crewed Orion (so far they are ahead in terms of actually flying something). There are many critics saying it cannot be done, but reminds me back in usenet days, someone posted a story of a sci-fi author who noted names and home phone numbers of every journalist that denigrated Apollo program during 1960s. Then while really drunk while Neil and Buzz walked the surface of the moon, and in middle of the night he called these journalists on the phone, yelled, "Ya dumb son-of-a-bitch!" and hung up.

      Anyone collecting names and phone numbers?

      I am pretty sure Neil and Buzz were not drunk while they walked on the moon.

  • ...not funded through theft! This is a turning point.

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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