US astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas 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 2.48pm 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.
Behnken and Hurley’s homecoming was also the first crewed splashdown in an American capsule in 45 years.
“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 350mph upon atmospheric re-entry, and eventually 15mph at splashdown.
During re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere, the capsule’s outer shell withstood temperatures as high as 3,500F while Behnken and Hurley, wearing SpaceX’s white flight suits strapped inside the cabin, experienced 85F .
The crew will spend up to an hour floating inside the capsule before joint recovery teams from SpaceX and Nasa retrieve them for a helicopter trip ashore. There the duo will undergo medical checks ahead of a flight to Nasa’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX became the first private company to send humans to orbit with the launch of Behnken and Hurley, who will have spent more than two months on the space station upon returning.
The landmark mission, launched from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center on 31 May, marked the first time the U.S. 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.