NASA astronauts successfully reach Earth aboard SpaceX capsule

Katie Ramirez
August 3, 2020

The big picture: Behnken and Hurley's 2-month mission marked the first time people have launched to orbit from the US since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011. "We are starting the journey of bringing people regularly to and from low-earth orbit". "On behalf of a grateful Nation, thank you!" "Hurry home so we can go get my dog".

NASA astronauts last returned from space to water on July 24, 1975, in the Pacific, the scene of most splashdowns.

A visibly emotional Musk later remarked, "this is the result of an incredible, incredible amount of work from people at SpaceX, people at NASA", Musk said.

The mission is also a huge win for Musk´s SpaceX, which was founded in only 2002 but has leap-frogged its way past Boeing, its main competitor in the commercial space race.

A SpaceX vessel will now recover Hurley and Behnken from their Crew Dragon capsule and deliver them to solid ground in Florida before the two astronauts fly back home to their families in Houston.

A visibly excited SpaceX founder Elon Musk added the mission heralded a new era.

The company has been taking cargo to and from the station for years. But SpaceX beat Boeing to the launch pad.

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

Their return trip was made more dramatic by a two-day standoff with mother nature: Tropical Storm Isaias was barreling toward the east coast.

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.

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He said that since the onset of the virus, many scientific questions had been resolved, and many remain unanswered. The worldwide team will include leading scientists and researchers from China and around the world, the WHO said.

They arrived at the ISS in the Crew Dragon on May 31, where they performed tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.

"Welcome back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX", said Mission Control from SpaceX headquarters.

Before the recovery ship hoisted the capsule out of the water and prepared to open the capsule's hatch, a flotilla of small private boats piloted by onlookers also converged around the bobbing capsule. But neither the military or SpaceX had enough personnel to keep private craft away, and officials cautioned that toxic fumes are a hazard. "The Coast Guard did an excellent job of ensuring that", said Bridenstine.

"With limited assets available and with no formal authority to establish zones that would stop boaters from entering the area, numerous boaters ignored the Coast Guard crews' requests and made a decision to encroach the area, putting themselves and those involved in the operation in potential danger", the statement said. While pleased with the crew's safe return, he wasn't overly impressed.

Behnken and Hurley's trip lasted 63 days in total - about 1,024 orbits around the Earth - and their return marks the first landing at sea for USA astronauts since 1975.

Prior to the mission, NASA had relied on Russian Soyuz rockets to reach space since 2011. He and Behnken named the capsule after the "incredible endeavour" NASA, SpaceX, and the United States have been on since the end of the spaceflight program.

Addressing a socially distanced welcome ceremony in a hangar, Behnken, a veteran of the Space Shuttle program, praised the SpaceX team behind the successful mission. The spaceship needed to make it back to Earth without a hitch.

NASA has been working to returning human spaceflight to U.S. soil for almost a decade: It lost that capability after retiring the Space Shuttle program in 2011.

NASA's decision not to create its own replacement for the Shuttle - but to contract that task out to commercial companies - was hugely controversial in the early 2010s.

"It's been a great two months, and we appreciate all you've done as a crew to help us prove out Dragon on its maiden flight", Hurley said to commander Chris Cassidy.

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