After SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley successfully splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday afternoon, several private boats, including one sporting a Trump campaign flag, surrounded the spacecraft as it bobbed in the water.
“That was not what we were anticipating. Of course, we wanted to make sure that there was a clearing for them to land and the Coast Guard did an excellent job of ensuring that, and then of course after they landed the boats just came in, and we need to do a better job next time for sure,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters during a media teleconference Sunday afternoon.
The historic mission, which was the first time American astronauts had flown to space from American soil since the shuttle program retired in 2011, also marked the first ocean splashdown in 45 years since the Apollo-Soyuz program.
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As recovery teams went to get Behnken, Hurley and the spacecraft safely onboard SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery ship, private boats swarmed the area, blocking the SpaceX teams.
“I will tell you it’s a beautiful sunny day and a lot of boaters were out there and they were certainly intrigued. I think all of America was very anxious to see the capsule land in the water, but yeah, it’s something that we need to do better next time,” Bridenstine said.
Having unauthorized boats in the splashdown’s zone safety area is not only dangerous for the astronauts and recovery teams but also hazardous to the boaters themselves since spacecraft vent toxic propellants used in space.
“We invited everybody to join us online and to share in the moment … but certainly, you know approaching the spacecraft is not among those ways,” Bridenstine said.
NASA had Coast Guard cutters clear the area during the actual splashdown event but once the spacecraft was in the water, “the boats just made a beeline,” Bridenstine said.
SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said in the future, more Coast Guard assets, as well as SpaceX and NASA assets, will be necessary to ensure there are no trespassers.
“The crews that we had deployed there, their focus was to make sure Bob and Doug got on the boat and exited the capsule safely. It was not really their job to police the area. We had the Coast Guard out there for that,” Shotwell said.
“What’s important is that Bob and Doug got safely on the boat. We were able to keep the area clear for landing, and then ask people to move back as they came a little bit too close to the Dragon capsule, which they did,” she continued. “This was a demonstration mission, this is the time that you go learn about these things, and we’ll certainly be better prepared next time.”
Contact Antonia Jaramillo at 321-242-3668 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @AntoniaJ_11.