If you were trying to follow the return of the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship from the International Space Station this morning, you were probably as frustrated as I was. Cable news wasn’t carrying it. Apparently the event, called “historic” by a CNN anchor, didn’t warrant live television coverage. Instead, there was streaming video from NASA showing mostly a bunch of people sitting behind monitors at NASA’s Houston facility and a bunch of people sitting behind monitors at the SpaceX control center in Hawthorne, Calif. A spotter plane circling above the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California relayed some very grainy video of Dragon as it deployed its drogue chutes and then its main chutes — three giant red-and-white parachutes reminiscent of the old Mercury and Apollo reentries. The actual splashdown wasn’t recorded because of low cloud cover, but Dragon was quickly located as soon as the plane got below the clouds.
And that was the end of the coverage. CNN didn’t start its coverage until about 3 minutes before splashdown, which came at 8:42 am, PDT. And since the splashdown, they haven’t said another word about it.
On the NASA feed, there was no cheering seen among the SpaceX people. They were busy sending signals to release the chutes and shut down all the onboard systems. It was announced there would be a press conference of some sort at noon (I forget which time zone that was), but I didn’t see it aired anywhere.
Meantime, I’ve been chewing my nails. As far as I was/am concerned, the mission isn’t over until until the Dragon is safely on board the ship sent to pick it up. I haven’t forgotten Liberty Bell 7, the Mercury spacecraft that splashed down successfully in 1961 but sank before it could be recovered. At the time it was reported that astronaut Gus Grissom had popped the hatch too soon, but I see Wikipedia now reports the spacecraft was lost when the hatch “unexpectedly blew off.” In any case, unless and until a spacecraft and its cargo are safely on board a recovery ship, I wouldn’t call the mission a success.
So far the only confirmation of actual recovery I can find is one AP story:
“Launch, docking, reentry and recovery successful,” SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, said in a statement provided by the company. “Welcome home, baby.”
That sounds pretty conclusive. Congratulations, SpaceX, on your magnificent achievement!