History made as SpaceX returns NASA astronauts to Earth

SpaceX, NASA

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley returned safely to Earth when they splashed down safely in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in a commercially built and operated US crew spacecraft.

“Anybody who’s touched Endeavour, you should take a moment to just cherish the day, especially given all the things that have happened this year,” Hurley said right before exiting the capsule more than an hour after splashdown. Both astronauts gave a thumbs-up as they emerged, AP News reported.

The safe return from the International Space Station on spacecraft Crew Dragon, owned by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, marks a new era in human spaceflight.

“Welcome home, Bob and Doug! Congratulations to the NASA and SpaceX teams for the incredible work to make this test flight possible,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “It’s a testament to what we can accomplish when we work together to do something once thought impossible. Partners are key to how we go farther than ever before and take the next steps on daring missions to the Moon and Mars.”

Behnken and Hurley’s return was the first splashdown for US astronauts since Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand and Donald “Deke” Slayton landed in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii on July 24, 1975, at the end of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, carrying Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, splashed down under parachutes in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, at 2:48 p.m. EDT Sunday and was successfully recovered by SpaceX. After returning to shore, the astronauts immediately will fly back to Houston.

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight launched from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on May 30. After reaching orbit, Behnken and Hurley named their Crew Dragon spacecraft “Endeavour” as a tribute to the first space shuttle each astronaut had flown aboard.

Nearly 19 hours later, Crew Dragon docked to the forward port of the International Space Station’s Harmony module on May 31.

“On behalf of all SpaceX employees, thank you to NASA for the opportunity to return human spaceflight to the United States by flying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley,” said SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell. “Congratulations to the entire SpaceX and NASA team on such an extraordinary mission. We could not be more proud to see Bob and Doug safely back home — we all appreciate their dedication to this mission and helping us start the journey towards carrying people regularly to low Earth orbit and on to the Moon and Mars. And I really hope they enjoyed the ride!”

Behnken and Hurley took part in a number of scientific experiments, spacewalks and public engagement events during their 62 days aboard the International Space Station. Overall, the astronaut duo spent 64 days in orbit, completed 1,024 orbits around Earth and travelled 27,147,284 statute miles.

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