Dragon C2 returned to Earth this morning after 9 days in orbit with the International Space Station.
Getting to the point where we could begin the mission was a tough journey. Countless* late nights and weekends were spent at work going through every little detail. (*I'm sure my super-amazing exceedingly-tolerant and understanding wife can derive the actual count.. I love you Maria!)
The mission itself was also tough. The majority of the critical operations were scheduled for the wee hours of the morning (launch, fly-under, rendezvous, departure, re-entry). My desire to monitor progress 24x7 was quickly overcome by exhaustion. It's one thing to pull an all-nighter, but it's another thing entirely when you have a steady trickle of adrenaline fed into your veins. When I was finally able to sleep I would dream about the mission. When I woke the first thing I would think of was the mission--the adrenaline would hit me again and I would leap out of bed anxious to get back to work so I could monitor in real-time what was happening.
I still can't believe how well the mission went. The rational part of my brain knows that for all the hard work we put into the design, development and testing of this vehicle it should have damn well worked, but there's another portion of my brain that simply can not believe it. I have to keep looking at the photos to remind myself that we actually completed the mission.
I re-read my post from the C1 Dragon and I'm struck how similar and different the experience was. Seeing things go as planned was as astounding and overwhelming as it was on C1, but I knew with this mission the next-hardest-part was always right around the corner. There are always plenty of more opportunities for things to go wrong. It was tough trying to keep emotions in check the whole time--you want to celebrate each little success but not "jinx it."
The final rendezvous was the climax of the mission. So much had to go right for it to work, and although there are many protections in the system to handle things in the event something goes wrong, it was challenging keeping those "what-ifs" out my head during that phase. When Pettit and Kuipers finally announced they had captured Dragon it was a huge relief. (Those guys are rockstars btw).
The successful splashdown today was a great wrap-up to the mission. I'm so thankful for the support my wife and family have given me, I'm proud to work with the SpaceX team, and I'm thankful for all the great assistance the people at NASA have given us throughout.