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Breakdown: Why astronauts made 1st nighttime return in 53 years

Updated: May. 10, 2021 at 12:58 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule soared back from outer space on May 2nd and made a parachute landing in the Gulf of Mexico. The return included four astronauts from a mission to the International Space Station.

The initial plan was to come back during the day but the return kept getting delayed because of inclement weather. The spacecraft becomes dangerously hot due to the friction of air molecules rubbing against the outside of the shuttle when coming back to earth. Thankfully, a thick heat protectant layer keeps the astronauts inside safe as the shuttle heads toward landing on earth.

NASA made a change to land at night because the nighttime weather can be cool and calm along with plenty of light from the moon. These were all factors influencing the decision to change to a night return. The good thing is that the space agency, SpaceX had also practiced a nighttime landing.

Another advantage of landing at night is avoiding interference of private boats which can be a safety risk. Last year when the spacecraft landing, many boaters wanted to see so more than a dozen boaters had converged to take a closer look. This time the US Coast Guard set up an 11.5-mile safety zone to deter boaters and helicopters from getting to close.

The May 2nd nighttime return was only the second nightime splashdown of a U.S. crew in 53 years.

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