He said there “was nothing to be concerned with at all times. The astronauts were safe, and the vehicle was working perfectly.” The heat shield is a vital component of the spacecraft that protects the astronauts as they plunge through the thickening atmosphere, creating temperatures that reach as high as 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
In addition to reinforcing the part of the heat shield, he said the company is refining how it measures the capsule’s altitude as it returns to Earth. During the August test flight, the drogue parachutes deployed at a slightly lower altitude than the company expected, but still well within safety parameters, he said.
Finally, SpaceX and NASA are working with the Coast Guard to create a 10-mile “keep-out zone” around the spacecraft once its splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.
During the test mission, recreational boats swarmed the vehicle, still loaded with volatile propellant, after it landed in the Gulf of Mexico, creating a safety hazard. “We’re going to have more boats on the next go-round, and make sure that the area is really clear of any other boats,” Koenigsmann said.
The test mission saw Hurley and Behnken spend two months on the International Space Station before their return. Now SpaceX is scheduled to launch a crew of four astronauts — three Americans and one Japanese — in the wee hours of Oct. 31. It would be the first operational flight of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and the first time the company has flown four people at once on what will be a long-duration mission to the station, lasting six months.
NASA said it is close to granting SpaceX the final certification that would pave the way for the company to fly astronauts to the space station on a regular basis under NASA’s “commercial