SpaceX capsule and NASA crew make first splashdown in 45 years

  • Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken prepare to return to Earth on a SpaceX capsule Sunday. SpaceX vis AP

  • SpaceX support teams are deployed on fast boats from the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship ahead of the landing of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Fla. The Demo-2 test flight for NASA's Commercial Crew Program is the first to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station and return them to Earth onboard a commercially built and... NASA/Bill Ingalls

  • SpaceX support teams are deployed on fast boats from the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship ahead of the landing of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Fla. The Demo-2 test flight for NASA's Commercial Crew Program is the first to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station and return them to Earth onboard a commercially built and... NASA/Bill Ingalls

  • NASA astronaut and Crew Recovery Chief Shane Kimbrough, left, and NASA Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester watch as SpaceX support teams are deployed on fast boats from the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship ahead of the landing of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Fla. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP) NASA/Bill Ingalls

  • NASA Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester, left, and NASA astronaut and Crew Recovery Chief Shane Kimbrough, along with other NASA and SpaceX support teams onboard the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship, prepare for the landing of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Fla. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP) NASA/Bill Ingalls

  • In this image from video made available by NASA, astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Bob Behnken prepare for undocking from the International Space Station, aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. (NASA via AP)

  • In this image from video made available by NASA, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule separates from the International Space Station on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. (NASA via AP)

  • This image from video made available by NASA shows the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, left, before it undocks from the International Space Station on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. (NASA via AP)

  • This photo provided by NASA shows from left, astronauts Bob Behnken, Chris Cassidy and Doug Hurley during an interview on the International Space Station on Friday, July 31, 2020. Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to leave the International Space Station in a SpaceX capsule on Saturday and splashdown off the coast of Florida on Sunday. (NASA via AP)

  • FILE- In this May, 30, 2020 file photo, NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken walk out of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building on their way to Pad 39-A, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Behnken and Hurley riding the Dragon SpaceX capsule are headed toward a splashdown Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in the Gulf of Mexico to close out their two-month test flight. It will mark the first splashdown in 45 years for NASA astronauts and the... John Raoux

Associated Press
Published: 8/2/2020 3:25:19 PM

Two NASA astronauts returned to Earth on Sunday in a dramatic, retro-style splashdown, their capsule parachuting into the Gulf of Mexico to close out an unprecedented test flight by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.

It was the first splashdown by U.S. astronauts in 45 years, with the first commercially built and operated spacecraft to carry people to and from orbit. The return clears the way for another SpaceX crew launch as early as next month and possible tourist flights next year.

Test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken rode the SpaceX Dragon capsule back to Earth less than a day after departing the International Space Station and two months after blasting off from Florida. The capsule parachuted into the calm gulf waters off the coast of Pensacola, hundreds of miles from Tropical Storm Isaias pounding Florida’s Atlantic coast.

“Welcome back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX,” the company’s Mission Control said.

The astronauts’ ride home in the capsule dubbed Endeavour was fast, bumpy and hot, at least on the outside.

The spacecraft went from a screaming orbital speed of 17,500 mph to 350 mph during atmospheric reentry, and finally to 15 mph at splashdown. Peak heating during descent was 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The anticipated top G forces felt by the crew: four to five times the force of Earth’s gravity.

A SpaceX recovery ship with more than 40 staff, including doctors and nurses, moved in following splashdown, with two smaller, faster boats leading the way. To keep the returning astronauts safe in the pandemic, the recovery crew quarantined for two weeks and were tested for the coronavirus.

SpaceX expected it to take a half-hour for the ship to arrive at the capsule and additional time to lift it out of the water onto the deck. The astronauts had plenty of seasick bags if needed while waiting in the bobbing capsule. A flight surgeon was going to be the first to look into the capsule, once the hatch swung open. After medical exams, the astronauts were expected to fly home to Houston for a reunion with their wives and sons.

The last time NASA astronauts returned from space to water was on July 24, 1975, in the Pacific, the scene of most splashdowns, to end a joint U.S.-Soviet mission known as Apollo-Soyuz. The Mercury and Gemini crews in the early to mid-1960s parachuted into the Atlantic, while most of the later Apollo capsules hit the Pacific. The lone Russian “splashdown” was in 1976 on a partially frozen lake amid a blizzard following an aborted mission; the harrowing recovery took hours.

SpaceX made history with this mission, which launched May 30 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It was the first time a private company launched people into orbit and also the first launch of NASA astronauts from home turf in nearly a decade. Hurley came full circle, serving as pilot of NASA’s last space shuttle flight in 2011 and the commander of this SpaceX flight.

Musk monitored the descent and splashdown from SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, California.


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