As the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, it brought the space journey that started in May 31, to a successful end.
After having blazed through Earth’s atmosphere, the parachutes delivered them safely to the waiting hands of NASA officers. The two parachutes worked autonomously to bring the capsule to slow down, reducing the astronauts’ speed of 17,500 mph in orbit down to 350 mph upon atmospheric reentry, splashing down eventually at 15 mph.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 2, 2020
NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley had just ended a two month trip that changed the American space history and put Elon Musk’s SpaceX in place to be the first private transport company to space. The astronauts were recovered by a SpaceX ship shortly after they landed in the waters.
Behnken and Hurley became the first American astronauts to splashdown in 45 years, when they touched down in the waters in Pensacola, near Florida.
“On behalf of the SpaceX and NASA teams, welcome back to Planet Earth. Thanks for flying SpaceX,” SpaceX mission control said in welcome message to the crew.
The Apollo mission of 1975 marked the last time an American crew splashed down into the ocean. Astronauts have always landed on dry land until Sunday afternoon.
As the duo flew on the wings of parachutes and aimed for the waters, GO Navigator, a giant recovery ship, moved into position for the Crew Dragon spacecraft and hauled it out of the water. Hurley and Behnken were whisked away by helicopter to the Pensacola Naval Air Station, from where they proceeded to Johnson Space Center in Houston via a NASA plane.
President Donald Trump and former president Barack Obama extended their warm welcome to the astronauts.
“Great to have NASA Astronauts return to Earth after very successful two month mission. Thank you to all,” Trump tweeted.
“Welcome home, Astronaut Behnken and Astronaut Hurley!” Obama wrote on Sunday. “We launched the Commercial Crew program to strengthen our U.S. space program and it’s been great to see its success. This historic NASA-SpaceX mission is a symbol of what American ingenuity and inventiveness can achieve.”
The mission was considered a demo, (codenamed Demo-2) but it represented American’s comeback to independence in space travels. The United States has depended on Russia since 2010, when NASA ended its Space Shuttle program, to travel to the International Space Station (ISS), and has been paying Russia about $90 million per a passenger seat.
Now, Elon Musk’s Spacex has cut the cost and the dependence on Russia. NASA intends to launch its astronauts on SpaceX spacecraft every few months going forward, paying about $55 million per seat.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during the agency’s webcast on Sunday that the success of the demo-2 marks the beginning of commercial trips to space.
“It’s really establishing the business model for the future. It’s the next era in human spaceflight, where NASA gets to be the customer.”
NASA plans to embark on an operational mission in September, but wants to conduct a review on the data from Demo-2, which may take about six weeks.
Hurley and Behnken spent 63 days at the ISS testing the SpaceX capsule’s systems and features. Part of the testing while the Crew Dragon was docked at the space station was a habitability test. The test is to ascertain if the spacecraft would be conducive for four astronauts working on some tasks.
NASA has future plans full of trips to the ISS. And if the reviews of the Demo-2 do not show major issues, the SpaceX Crew 1 mission will be launched in late September, marking the first operational mission of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon that will be made up of four astronauts.
SpaceX will refurbish the spacecraft used by Hurley and Behnken for future trip scheduled for the spring of 2021.
The quest to start a commercial spacecraft was NASA’s way of encouraging innovation and to give corporations the chance to get involved. Boeing and SpaceX were awarded the contracts: $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion respectively. The idea was to create a crew worthy of the version of the Dragon spacecraft that was flying cargo to and from the space station.
Though the idea was criticized by many, Boeing was the favorite to deliver the spacecraft in the shortest time, having been in the business of aircrafts for a long time. Eventually, Elon Musk turned the tides with SpaceX, a company founded in 2004.