Crew Dragon Return

On Sunday, 2nd August, 2020, at 2:48 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, with NASA astronauts Robert “Bob” Behnken and Douglas Hurley on board, splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, near the coast of Pensacola, Florida, and was recovered by the SpaceX recovery vessel Go Navigator, marking the successful conclusion of the first flight of an American human-crewed orbital spacecraft constructed and operated by private industry, restoring independent human spaceflight capability to the United States for the first time since the decommissioning of the Space Shuttle fleet, nine years ago, and marking the first splashdown at sea of an American crew-carrying space capsule since the last landing of an Apollo capsule, at the end of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, when Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand, and Donald “Deke” Slayton landed near Hawaii, on 24th July, 1975.

The landing marks the successful conclusion of the Demo-2 test flight of the Crew Dragon capsule, which was launched on 30th May  from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as the first crewed mission for the spacecraft. Both Behnken and Hurley had made their first Space Shuttle flights aboard Shuttle Endeavour, and after reaching orbit, they named their new spacecraft Endeavour in tribute. Nineteen hours after launch, the capsule docked with the International Space Station’s Harmony module, and the astronauts spent two months aboard the ISS.

Pensacola, the most westerly of seven potential landing sites, was chosen because of concerns

credits: NASA

regarding the Isaias storm system, which was moving up the Atlantic coast of Florida; however, calm weather prevailed at the selected site. Prior to leaving the spacecraft, astronaut Behnken thanked the SpaceX team “For doing the most difficult parts and the most important parts of human spaceflight — getting us into orbit and bringing us home, safely.” His crewmate, Hurley, thanked the NASA and SpaceX teams: “You should take a moment to just cherish this day, especially given all the things that have happened this year.”

Michael Heiman, the SpaceX engineer who communicated with the astronauts, said, following splashdown: “On behalf of the SpaceX and NASA teams, welcome back to planet Earth…and thanks for flying SpaceX” whilst Steve Stich, commercial crew program manager at NASA, said that he was “Almost speechless as to how well things went today with the deorbit.”

After being returned to shore, the astronauts were flown back to Ellington Field, a military base in Houston. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “Welcome home, Bob and Doug! Congratulations to the NASA and SpaceX teams for the incredible work to make this test flight possible…It’s a testament to what we can accomplish when we work together to do something once thought impossible. Partners are key to how we go farther than ever before and take the next steps on daring missions to the Moon and Mars.” Commenting on the fleet of small boats observing the splashdown, which had to be cleared out of the way by the Coast Guard, Bridenstine said: “That was not what we were anticipating…After they landed, the boats just came in, and we need to do a better job next time for sure.” During a news conference following the landing, he stated: “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, one customer of many customers in a very robust commercial marketplace for human spaceflight to low Earth orbit.”

Elon Musk, who had come to Houston to welcome the astronauts home, said: “I really came here because I just wanted to see Bob and Doug, to be totally frank… I’m not very religious, but I prayed for this one.”

SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said: “On behalf of all SpaceX employees, thank you to NASA for the opportunity to return human spaceflight to the United States by flying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley…Congratulations to the entire SpaceX and NASA team on such an extraordinary mission. We could not be more proud to see Bob and Doug safely back home—we all appreciate their dedication to this mission and helping us start the journey towards carrying people regularly to low Earth orbit and on to the Moon and Mars. And I really hope they enjoyed the ride!” She further stated that the mission had been “incredibly smooth” and that “This is really just the beginning…We are starting the journey of bringing people regularly to and from low Earth orbit and onto the moon and then ultimately onto Mars.”

The British Interplanetary Society extend their congratulations to NASA and SpaceX on a successful flight!

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