NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley splashed down safely in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida in a commercially built and operated American crew spacecraft, on Sunday.
Both parachuted down on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which was successfully recovered by SpaceX. After returning to shore, the astronauts will fly back to Houston.
This splashdown comes nearly 45 years after American astronauts 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 Commercial 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.”
NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 spaceflight was launched on May 30 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Dragon spacecraft was called Endeavour by the crew as a tribute to first space shuttle that they both had flown on.
The crew Dragon docked in the forward port of the International Space Station’s Harmony module on May 31.
The Demo-2 test flight is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, that it has undertaken with the U.S. aerospace industry to launch astronauts to the space station.
“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 spent 62 days aboard the station and participated in some scientific experiments, spacewalks and event public engagements. Overall, the astronaut completed 1,024 orbits around Earth and traveled 27,147,284 statute miles.
Commercial Space Flight
The various experiments carried out by the astronauts included the Droplet Formation Study inside of the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), which evaluates water droplet formation and water flow. They even conducted the Capillary Structures investigation, which studies the use of different structures and containers to manage fluids and gases.
They also did the Electrolysis Measurement (EM) experiment, which looks at bubbles created using electrolysis and has implications for numerous electrochemical reactions and devices. They took images for the Crew Earth Observations study. The CEO helps record the changes that human intervention causes on our planet and the effect of natural events like hurricanes, floods, and volcanic eruptions.
The review of the mission and spacecraft will pave the way for NASA to certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system for regular flights carrying astronauts to and from the space station. This will save NASA billions of dollars, which can be used in other space programs. The aim is to get a cost-effective, safe and reliable transportation system outsourced to save NASA the energy to focus on other space missions to Mars and the Moon.