NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough smiles after NASA and SpaceX personnel help him out of the Dragon capsule Nov. 8. Photo by Aubrey Gemignani/NASA | License Photo
Nov. 15 (UPI) -- NASA's Crew-2 astronauts enjoyed spectacular views, camaraderie and fresh peppers grown in microgravity, but they also encountered challenging spacewalks and a crisis when part of the International Space Station malfunctioned, the four space flyers said Monday during a teleconference.
Astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet gave their first press conference Monday morning since splashing down Nov. 8 in the Gulf of Mexico a week ago.
Their capsule, the Crew Dragon Endeavour, landed under parachutes off the coast of Pensacola, Fla., after they had been on the space station for six months.
The landing was much different than one in a space shuttle or in a Russian capsule on land, said Hoshide, of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.
"The splashdown was much much softer. I would say I was worried after a splashdown bobbing on the surface of the ocean, but I think it was OK for all of us," he said.
Hoshide also praised the ride into orbit aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
"The launch and landing itself was just like any other spacecraft, but it was smooth, and I think it was more responsive. That's what I remember going uphill," he said. "You know, the acceleration, deceleration, it was like a joyride, and we were all grinning and giggling."
The Crew-2 astronauts traveled 84.6 million miles during their 199 days in orbit, circling the Earth 3,194 times. The mission duration set a record for an American-made spacecraft.
The crew conducted about 100 science experiments, such as growing -- and eating -- chili peppers successfully in microgravity.
Astronauts previously grew more simple plants, like lettuce or radishes, which don't require pollination and grow faster than peppers, McArthur said.
"There's a huge benefit to growing something like peppers, not just the flavor and having chilis to eat, but also the vitamins," she said.
Seeing brilliant auroras, or northern lights, from space was another highlight, said Pesquet, of the European Space Agency.
"It's sad because the pictures we share just don't do them justice," he said. "Flying right overhead is through the aurora. I think it's the most unbelievable natural phenomena you could possibly witness with your own eyes."
All four astronauts conducted spacewalks to connect new solar power arrays to the space station's exterior, which meant traversing the longest distances outside the airlocks, Pesquet said.
"We jokingly called it the 'Wild West' of the space station because it was all the way at the end where nobody ever goes. There's fewer handrails to grab... it's a really challenging environment."
The crew lived through an unexpected crisis July 29 when a new arrival at the orbiting facility, the Russian Nauka science module, fired its thrusters in error and flipped the station around 1 1/2 times.
The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, was able to correct the problem quickly, but people on board had to take emergency action, Kimbrough said. In the end, nobody was hurt, and there appeared to be no permanent damage to the space station.
"When the alarms went off, we immediately then reported to the U.S. laboratory and Aki [Akihiko Hoshide], the commander at the time, started under giving us roles and responsibilities to react to the situation," Kimbrough said.
"Everybody kind of fell in line with our training and just started reacting, with his leadership."
The four astronauts going through a series of debriefings, including health assessments, he said.
From left to right, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide are seen inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft onboard the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship shortly after having landed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Fla., on November 8. Photo by Aubrey Gemignani/NASA | License Photo