SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule With NASA Astronauts Returns Safely to Earth

Pablo Tucker
August 3, 2020

The SpaceX Crew Dragon "Endeavour" spacecraft carrying two NASA astronauts parachuted to a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida on Sunday, completing a two-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The landing also marked the final test for SpaceX as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, an initiative created to build space taxis for NASA that will transport its astronauts to and from the space station.

State of play: The two astronauts splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico at about 2:48 p.m. ET after undocking from the station on Saturday.

The recovery teams reached the SpaceX Dragon capsule and gathered the parachutes in the water. Launching in May, the mission was the first manned spaceflight from American soil in almost a decade, and the first launch of NASA astronauts by a private company.

Under those contracts, SpaceX and Boeing design and own the craft and NASA is simply a customer.

That change, in theory, will free the agency (and its budget) up to focus more fully on farther-afield goals, like getting people to the Moon and Mars.

What's next: NASA already has plans to launch more astronauts to the space station with SpaceX in the near future.

Hurley's and Behnken's splashdown rounded off a two-month voyage that was NASA's first crewed flight from home soil in the past nine years.

Each Dragon capsule can be flown as many as five times and according to Reed, it should only take about two months to get Hurley and Behnken's capsule ready to fly again.

The splashdown has ushered in a new era for Nasa, which now has at least one commercial spacecraft ready to launch astronauts into space from U.S. soil.

The ocean landing comes after a 45-year hiatus and harks back to NASA's Apollo program, which saw astronauts splash into the Pacific Ocean with retrieval by ships.

With dozens of civilian boats ignoring the U.S. Coast Guard's (USCG) repeated requests to maintain a safe distance from the returning capsule, several vessels arrived on the scene well before the recovery crew. "On behalf of a grateful Nation, thank you!"

The next mission - dubbed "Crew-1" - will involve a four member team: commander Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialist Shannon Walker of NASA, along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency mission specialist Soichi Noguchi.

To begin their journey home, Hurley and Behnken undocked from the orbital outpost at 21:54 GMT on Saturday evening, with the capsule backing away from the station autonomously and kicking off its trip back to Earth right on schedule.

Boeing, a longtime NASA partner that has worked on numerous human spaceflight programs, recently suffered a significant setback when a Starliner capsule malfunctioned during a key uncrewed test flight.

Shortly afterward, the spacecraft shot out its bottom half, known as the trunk, to reveal a heat shield to protect the capsule and its crew as they reentered orbit. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk was there, watching the screens and speaking from time to time with SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.

"Today we really made history", Bridenstine told an earlier press conference.

NASA plans an August 4 news conference with Behnken and Hurley at Johnson Space Center.

Other reports by iNewsToday