SpaceX Crew Dragon returns NASA astronauts to Earth after historic mission

World Monday 03/August/2020 09:02 AM
By: Times News Service
SpaceX Crew Dragon returns NASA astronauts to Earth after historic mission

WASHINGTON: The SpaceX Crew Dragon "Endeavour" spacecraft carrying two NASA astronauts parachuted to a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida on Sunday, completing a two-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The spacecraft splashed down off the coast of Pensacola, Florida at 2:48 p.m. EDT (1848 GMT) Sunday.

The weather conditions appeared "great" for the parachute splashdown, tweeted NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The SpaceX recovery vessel GO Navigator was waiting at the landing zone. The recovery teams reached the SpaceX Dragon capsule and gathered the parachutes in the water.

SpaceX engineers did a purge of vapor fumes around the Dragon Endeavour to ensure the safety of the crew when they opened the hatch.

The spacecraft hatch was later opened. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley were safely brought out of the capsule.

The return began at 7:35 p.m. EDT Saturday, when the Crew Dragon spacecraft autonomously undocked from the ISS Harmony module.

After an approximately 19-hour return journey, the spacecraft began deorbit burn at 1:56 p.m. EDT Sunday, and deployed four main parachutes.

The return of the test flight with the two astronauts from the ISS marked the first splashdown of an American crew spacecraft in 45 years, said NASA.

It also wrapped up the test flight for the first commercially owned and operated crewed spacecraft under NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

"It was an honor to witness history as @NASA and @SpaceX launched American astronauts on an American rocket from American soil to the @Space_Station in May. Today, we welcome home @AstroBehnken & @Astro_Doug! On behalf of a grateful Nation, thank you!" U.S. Vice President Mike Pence tweeted.

"We are entering a new era of human spaceflight, where NASA is no longer the purchaser, owner and operator of all the hardware. We are going to be a customer," Bridenstine said at a post-splashdown teleconference.

He said the mission is the beginning of commercial transportation to and from the ISS.

"We also want to have numerous providers that are competing against each other on cost, innovation and safety, driving down cost and increasing access to space in a way that's never been seen before," Bridenstine said.

Astronauts Behnken and Hurley took off from U.S. soil on May 30, riding aboard Crew Dragon spacecraft in a historic test flight to the ISS. 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.

The mission, dubbed Demo-2, is the first crewed launch to orbit from U.S. soil since NASA's shuttle program ended in 2011, and also the first-ever manned space launch by a private company, ushering in a new era of U.S. space exploration.

This is SpaceX's final test flight for NASA's Commercial Crew Program and will provide critical data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft, and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking and landing operations, according to NASA.

Once the Demo-2 mission is complete, and the SpaceX and NASA teams have reviewed all the data for certification, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will fly astronauts to the ISS on the first operational mission targeted for late September, SpaceX said earlier.