Awesome Video of a Dragon’s Descent!

by Jason Major on June 1, 2012

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Just in from SpaceX and NASA, here’s a video of the descent of the Dragon capsule on the morning of May 31, 2012.

Dragon's Apollo-esque drogue chutes deployed (NASA)

Taken from a chase plane, the footage shows the spacecraft’s dramatic chute deployment and splashdown into the Pacific at 8:42 a.m. PT, approximately 560 miles southwest off the coast of Los Angeles. The event marked the end of a successful and historic mission that heralds a new era of commercial spaceflight in the U.S.

Read more about the completion of the first Dragon mission here.

Video: NASA

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

John van Houten June 1, 2012 at 8:33 PM

How come they splash down in the ocean instead of on land.

Water does not make a much softer landing I would have thought, then there is the possibility of a sinking.

Tony Power June 1, 2012 at 10:00 PM

I’ve often wondered the same myself. The only reason I could come up with was to avoid the possibility of a capsule going off course and landing in a populated area, or that on the off chance that one of the parachutes fails to open, landing in water atleast gives a better chance of survival to the astronauts inside, or perhaps less chance of rolling end-over-end as may happen if they landed on land with toomuch forward momentum

Greg Maynard June 4, 2012 at 1:54 AM

A little research turns up the following reasons for NASA using water landing:
- Water does cushion the impact significantly meaning that the capsules did not require the additional weight of rockets or airbags for land cushioning, and every bit of wieght was important.
- Craft returning from the moon do so at a far greater velocity which could involve greater impact if one of the parachutes failed for example. Two of the Soviet Zond circumlunar craft splashed down in the Indian Ocean. The other two used skip re-entry to slow down and one of those failed to land softly.
- NASA was unsure of how accurately their early guidance systems (Mercury) would work so exact landing co-ordinates could be incorrect. A mistake of hundreds of miles on continental USA could result in catastrophic civilian casulaties. The Soviet Union on the other hand had vast areas with little or no population.
- USA launched from the east coast over water, meaing an abort would result in a capsule splashdown so capability had to be there. USSR launched over the huge length of their own country and capsules had to be safe for an abort landing.
- USA had access to a huge fleet including particularly aircraft carriers, something the USSR was somewhat weaker in. This made water-landing more practical for the USA.

Note that even the Orion capsule although originally slated for land landing has moved back towards an ocean landing as primary.

Tony Power June 1, 2012 at 10:17 PM

If anyone from NASA or SpaceX, or perhaps an engineer knowledgeable in such things is reading and can answer that would be great. As far back as when I saw video of the Apollo missions (No I’m not old enough to have watched the Apollo missions, however my father tells me I watched the first Shuttle launch on TV, I was all of 2 at the time though) I asked my teacher why land in the ocean. She couldn’t give a satisfactory answer. I would have thought that what happened to Liberty 7 would have shocked them out of the landing on water thing. And especially when you consider these are supposed to be reusable capsules, the problems with not just water but salt water getting into stuff, something the engineers for Apollo and such didn’t have to consider, can’t be a small thing. So the reasons for landing in water must be fairly substantial.

Olaf2 June 2, 2012 at 1:03 AM

In the case of Apollo I think it is because they do not require to cross countries to get it back. And the direct incoming trajectory is not restricted to only the US.

delphinus100 June 2, 2012 at 1:36 AM

Actually, water is quite a bit more forgiving…but NASA learned the sinking issue early on, with Liberty Bell 7.

The Russians have always landed on land, but they were also willing to accept the weight penalty of, in addition to parachutes, landing rockets that ignite at literally the last second before touchdown (triggered by a probe that hangs beneath the descent module) to further soften the landing. For them, landings that crews could literally walk away from, and landing zones that needed just a few trucks and helicopters, were worth it.

And even so, Soyuz *can* float. And demonstrated it once, in a landing on a frozen lake.

US capsules were always tested for emergency descent to land. Survivable, but not something you want to subject a crew to by choice.

Ultimately, Dragon will also descend on rockets, from higher altitudes than the Russian system uses, with a parachute only as back-up.

Brendan June 2, 2012 at 3:30 AM

I always assumed one of the issues had to do with lack of a precise system for landing with capsules due to the ballistic reentry. It was easier to have a large landing area in the ocean, than on land. More forgiving in terrain and access. Especially if you have access to a giant navy like the US in the 60s.

Space shuttle of course was controllable.

As with Russia, they didn’t have as large a fleet or were well enough located to large open waters where they’d be free from interference. Similar reasons with the Chinese.

With SpaceX, landing on land is coming. It’s just steps at the moment. Something interesting about the early Russian missions is that the cosmonauts would actually eject from the capsule before it hit the ground. Which leads to morons claiming because Yuri ejected after his flight, and didn’t land in his craft technically it didn’t qualify as a flight and he wasn’t the first man in space.

Here’s an interesting thought, if they ever can get the landing area really precise for ballistic re-entry, could they built a landing surface? which is better than land or water. Like a giant pit of balls or something. Or deliberately land in a lake or something. Hmmz..

1J2ackBrian June 2, 2012 at 8:50 AM

I’ve often wondered too whether it would be possible at some time in the future, to seek out and fix some sort of parachute/landing device to a carefully selected small asteroid, capture it bring it down to Earth safely, and then examine at leisure.And if appropriate, using the content of that asteroid. Very large asteroids in future could possibly be used as objects to land on and act as staging posts prior to further space exploration. Asteroids could prove the ideal vehicle for those hitchhikers seeking to further their knowledge of the Universe, plus being ideal for large Space observatories and observations of many kinds.

1J2ackBrian June 2, 2012 at 8:52 AM

Second thoughts regarding asteroids, make sure first that you know when to get off, otherwise you might end up in a totally different universe before you know it!

Photon Capturer June 2, 2012 at 12:46 PM

I noticed alot of people commenting about the similarity to Apollo programmes and I think its great that a new generation can look at this and where we were then and are now and get a sense of the capabilities that exist. This is a very positive endeavor for our species and one that lives up to our capacity for exploration.

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Keith Nealy June 2, 2012 at 11:22 PM

Did anyone else notice that the capsule appeared to be burned on one side – carbon deposits?

bugzzz June 3, 2012 at 1:36 PM

Success. Very cool. What triggers the release of the second set of chutes?

Aqua4U June 3, 2012 at 3:02 PM

I watched the landing live.. it was very exciting! In the original videos I did not see the capsule being dragged on the surface by the still inflated parachute(s). “Hey! Come back here!”

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