After the SpaceX capsule carrying two astronauts landed in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, NASA officials were caught off guard when recreational boaters beat the recovery crews to the scene.
Several boats with multiple passengers surrounded the floating capsule after it touched down.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the Coast Guard did an excellent job clearing the area for landing, but that NASA had not anticipated private boaters would enter the zone and get within feet of the capsule that carried spacemen Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley back to earth.
The boaters did not violate any laws because the Coast Guard “advised” boaters to stay away, but NASA says the boaters put themselves and the astronauts in danger by approaching the capsule.
NASA Ambassador Tony Rice listed the reasons why the boaters should have observed the Coast Guard advisory and kept their distance from the capsule. Among them were noxious chemicals, blocking recovery operations and the potential for damage to the parachutes used for the landing.
The Coast Guard said limited availability of assets and no formal authority to establish zones prevented them from stopping boaters from entering the area, but that numerous boaters ignored the Coast Guard crews’ requests and encroached the area anyway.
"Without a duly established restricted area, the Coast Guard cannot issue fines or other violations to recreational boaters who encroached within the recovery zone," Coast Guard Petty Officer Michelli told Rice.
The Coast Guard, NASA and SpaceX plan a comprehensive review of Sunday's events in preparation for the next launch and recovery, but clearly the message is to stay away from the capsule.