The following is a transcript of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Deputy Manager Steve Stich’s comments during the NASA TV broadcast following Crew Dragon splashdown on Friday, March 8:
It’s great to be here representing the Commercial Crew Program. What an outstanding day to be part of our program. We started our contracts in 2014 for these first missions, and to sit here today and talk about Demo-1 and how great the flight went and what we’re going to learn from it is just amazing.
I’d like to congratulate the SpaceX team on a phenomenal job getting the vehicles ready and executing the flight, and our whole NASA team that worked the mission. If you just think about the enormity of what happened in this flight and all of the prep that went into it—getting the pad refurbished at (Launch Complex) 39A, getting the flight control room set up, getting the vehicles built, getting the Falcon 9 ready, all of the analysis, all of the mission support that went into it, the simulations and the practice leading up to this flight over the last year or so—it’s just been a tremendous job.
I would say one of the things that we learned during this flight is the great relationship we have between the program and SpaceX. I would say our teams worked seamlessly back and forth with SpaceX, not only in the lead-up to the flight but in how we managed the flight through the Dragon mission management team, and then also working with Kenny Todd and the International Space Station Program. The space station program did a phenomenal job supporting our program while we were docked to station, on the way to station, and the international partnership as well, so it was a really great opportunity for this mission.
The last 24 hours have been exciting for us. You know we closed the hatch yesterday around noon (Central Time), got into the undock today around 1:31 a.m. (Central Time), did a few small separation burns to get away from station—if you watched that on NASA TV that was flawless—did about three separation burns to get down below station, executed the deorbit burn at about 6:52 a.m. Central Time and then landed just a few minutes ago at 7:45 a.m. (Central Time).
The vehicle is doing well. The recovery crews are out on the scene. They’ve already been around the spacecraft and made sure it was secure for personnel. It was a very calm day with low winds and low sea states, and one of the chutes kind of landed on the Dragon capsule; they’ve already gotten that off, so that’s going really well. It’ll probably take 30 minutes to maybe an hour to get it back on the ship.
When you look overall at this mission, it was a great dress rehearsal for Demo-2. We learned a phenomenal amount in the prelaunch timeframe about how to load the vehicle, and thinking forward to how we’ll put the crews in the vehicle. The ascent profile for this flight, we practiced the exact profile that Mike Hopkins and others will fly very soon—Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken (on Demo-2). We had the abort system—the crew escape system on Dragon—actually enabled for this flight, and we were able to see how that worked and we’ll get the data back and look at those triggers and how it performed.
On-orbit we got a lot of great data on the vehicle in terms of the thermal performance and power performance; the vehicle really did better than we expected. Then the rendezvous was phenomenal as we came in and checked out those sensors. During the attached phase of course we had cargo operations, and we’ll do the same thing both on Demo-2 and then Crew Dragon-1 and other missions. Then we did a robotic survey of the vehicle to look at the thermal protection system and other systems, and that went really well.
I will say one thing: this mission, it was only six days long. It was a sprint from start to finish, and thinking about where we’ve been in operations in that sprint, I think Kenny (Todd) would probably tell you the same thing—it was just a phenomenal job by the team. And then of course today, the undocking, watching how those systems performed, that went flawlessly. It’s a very tight sequence between undocking and de-orbit burn, how the nose cone performed, how the de-orbit burn was executed, then the entry was phenomenal.
We did have Ripley on board, an anthropomorphic test device, and that’s going to give us a lot of important data for the accelerations during both the ascent phase and then the entry phase under the parachutes and then landing. So we’ll collect that data, and then look at that.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be doing post-flight reviews. In fact just next week we’ll have one for the launch vehicle and the ground segment at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), we’ll start reviewing that. And then subsequently we’ll do reviews with SpaceX on the orbit phase of the mission.
This flight really sets us up well for the rest of the year. The vehicle that’s hit the water in the Atlantic today will be the in-flight abort vehicle, and so one of the first things that’ll happen is the vehicle will come back to KSC and go over into the processing area and start getting refurbished for the in-flight abort test which should be in the June timeframe. And then the Demo-2 vehicle is in Hawthorne, CA getting ready for the first crewed mission. That’s in progress and going well. That work has continued all through the flight, so it will be a busy year for us with SpaceX with in-flight abort in the June timeframe and then Demo-2 later in the year with the first crewed mission.
I don’t think we saw really anything in the mission so far—and we’ve got to do to the data reviews—that would preclude us from having the crewed mission later this year.
If you look in the April timeframe we’re also getting ready for the Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and that will happen very soon. So our program will transition after this mission and the data reviews into preparing not only for in-flight abort and Demo-2, but also the Orbital Flight Test—the uncrewed flight test—for Boeing, and that’ll be coming up in the April timeframe. Spacecraft 3, which is the Boeing vehicle, is coming together at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility down in Florida. And (Boeing) is in the middle of a bunch of very critical testing right now out at El Segundo (California) to verify that the spacecraft can work successfully in space. And then later on this year we’ll have the Crew Flight Test for Boeing as well.
If you just look at all the activities in commercial crew, it’s a super busy time. In addition to this flight, in the last few weeks we did parachute tests for SpaceX and Boeing and so if you look at all of the activities to get ready for flying our crews, it’s just a very exciting time.
Again, congratulations to our SpaceX team and all of the NASA people across the country that worked so hard for many, many years on this flight. It really sets us up for the rest of the year, and it’s a super exciting time to be in commercial crew.