SpaceX splashdown smoothly delivers NASA astronauts back to Earth – CNET

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were strapped into Crew Dragon and ready to go prior to the launch scrub on May 27.

SpaceX

The first return of a commercially built and operated US spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts from the International Space Station made waves on Sunday with a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico right on time at 11:48 a.m. PT.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon passengers — NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley — fittingly named the history-making spacecraft Endeavour.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine welcomed the astronauts home in a tweet. 

Crew Dragon undocked from the ISS at 4:35 p.m. PT on Saturday, kicking off the crucial final leg of the crewed test mission that’s meant to prove SpaceX is ready to carry astronauts back and forth to the ISS on a regular basis. Crew Dragon had previously aced its uncrewed Demo-1 test flight back in March.

NASA TV has livestreamed the crew capsule’s return and will broadcast a follow-up news conference at 1:30 p.m. PT on Sunday.

Behnken and Hurley arrived at the ISS in late May after a smooth launch. The return schedule was initially uncertain due to the arrival of a major storm along the Florida coast.

Crew Dragon had seven potential splashdown sites in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean to choose from. A spot off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, won the honor. The weather held out nicely, giving the astronauts smooth waters to land in.

A SpaceX recovery ship named GO Navigator is on location to retrieve the capsule and the crew. In a news conference on Friday, Behnken and Hurley said they would have bags ready in case they experienced seasickness while waiting for pickup by the recovery crew. The astronauts reported they were doing well after splashdown.

The splashdown followed a tense reentry process that put a lot of heat and stress on the spacecraft. Crew Dragon’s parachutes deployed as it closed in on its target and brought it safely down into the sea. The astronauts will exit the spacecraft after it is taken on board the recovery ship. 

If the Demo-2 mission assessment goes smoothly, then NASA and SpaceX will move forward with the first operational Crew Dragon mission, which is scheduled to launch later this year. 

The safe return of Behnken and Hurley opens up a new future for US spaceflight. It fulfills the promise of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and its quest to end the space agency’s dependence on Russian spacecraft to carry its astronauts to the ISS. 

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