ESA shares photos of the SpaceX Dragon capsule before and after the brutal atmospheric re-entry

SpaceX’s Dragon capsule crashed into the Atlantic Ocean with four astronauts on May 6, and like all other spacecraft, it went through relentless atmospheric re-entry. This is the phase, which is one of the most difficult phases of spaceflight because any miscalculation can be catastrophic. The European Space Agency (ESA) has shared a photo of the spacecraft named “Endeavour” which endured the brutal conditions of re-entry and completely burned up in the process.

(The Endeavor capsule being recovered after splashdown; Image; ESA)

The photo above was taken during the recovery of the spacecraft after splashing down off the coast of Florida with astronauts from the Crew-3 mission. Crew-3 was the third manned spaceflight mission to the International Space Station (ISS), in which three NASA astronauts and one ESA astronaut visited space on a six-month mission from November 2021. As you can see, the base of the spacecraft was charred with atmospheric scorch after being engulfed in flames past the windows of the capsule.

(The Endurance capsule docked outside the space station; Image: Twitter/@astro_matthias)

What happens during a comeback?

When a spacecraft re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, the surrounding air particles are disturbed and produce an electrically charged plasma around the spacecraft. NASA claims that this plasma production occurs because the temperature around the space capsule becomes extremely intense, causing strong shock waves to be generated on the lower part of the capsule. Notably, the speed of a spacecraft descending through the atmosphere reaches more than 28,000 km/h, which is several times faster than the speed of sound.

In order to get rid of the problem of intense heating, space capsules are usually equipped with a cooling system while the extreme descent speed is controlled using massive parachutes. In several videos shared by SpaceX, the Endurance spacecraft can be seen approaching Atlantic waters through a parachute-assisted descent. The reason space agencies are much more cautious during reentry is the 2003 Columbia disaster that killed seven NASA astronauts, including Indian Kalpana Chawla, during reentry.

The Crew-3 team consisted of three NASA astronauts – Raja Chari, Kayla Barron and Thomas Mashburn as well as ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer. The team spent six months aboard the ISS and was recently replaced by Crew-4 astronauts who arrived at the space station on April 28.

Image: ESA

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