NASA astronauts splash down in Gulf of Mexico after journey home aboard SpaceX

A capsule with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley splashes down in the Gulf of Mexico, August 2, 2020, in this screen grab taken from a video. (NASA/handout via Reuters)

US astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who flew to the International Space Station in SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon, splashed down in the capsule in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday after a two-month voyage that was NASA’s first crewed mission from home soil in nine years.

Behnken and Hurley left the station on Saturday and returned home to land in the waves off Florida’s Pensacola coast on schedule at 2:48 p.m. ET following a 21-hour overnight journey aboard Crew Dragon “Endeavor.”

The successful splashdown was a final key test of whether Elon Musk’s spacecraft can transport astronauts to and from orbit — a feat no private company has ever accomplished before.

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“On behalf of the SpaceX and NASA teams, welcome back to Planet Earth. Thanks for flying SpaceX,” SpaceX mission control said upon splashdown.

For the return sequence, on-board thrusters and two sets of parachutes worked autonomously to slow the acorn-shaped capsule, bringing Behnken and Hurley’s speed of 17,500 miles per hour in orbit down to 350 mph upon atmospheric reentry, and eventually 15 mph at splashdown.

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The landmark mission, launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on May 31, marked the first time the US space agency launched humans from American soil since its shuttle program retired in 2011. Since then the United States has relied on Russia’s space program to launch its astronauts to the space station.

Behnken and Hurley’s homecoming marked the first crewed splashdown in an American capsule in 45 years.

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. (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. (AP)

NASA officials have said Crew Dragon, an acorn-shaped pod with seven astronaut seats, has been in a “very healthy” condition since docking to the space station, where astronauts conducted tests and monitored how the spacecraft performs over time in space when it was docked to the station.

NASA, aiming to galvanize a commercial space marketplace, awarded nearly $8 billion to SpaceX and Boeing Co collectively in 2014 to develop dueling space capsules, experimenting with a contract model that allows the space agency to buy astronaut seats from the two companies.

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Last Update: Sunday, 02 August 2020 KSA 22:08 - GMT 19:08
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