SpaceX is the first American private company to make history transporting astronauts to the space station and back. NASA Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley were launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on May 30th. The mission, referred to as Demo-2, was the first time the agency launched astronauts from American soil since the Space Shuttle fleet was grounded in 2011. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket propelled Crew Dragon into orbit from historic Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The craft docked to the orbiting laboratory autonomously on May 31st. During their voyage, the astronauts tested out the spacecraft’s functions and capabilities to demonstrate the craft is safe and reliable to transport humans on future operational missions.
“During their 62 days aboard station, Behnken and Hurley contributed more than 100 hours of time to supporting the orbiting laboratory’s investigations, participated in public engagement events, and supported four spacewalks with Behnken and Cassidy to install new batteries in the station’s power grid and upgrade other station hardware,” the agency said. After the two-month stay at ISS, the astronauts embarked on a return voyage to Earth. The Crew Dragon spacecraft they called ‘Endeavour,’ undocked from the space station’s Harmony module on August 1st. Astronauts Behnken and Hurley conducted a 19-hour return voyage.
In case you missed it, @SpaceX's Dragon Endeavour with @AstroBehnken & @Astro_Doug aboard undocked from the @Space_Station.— NASA (@NASA) August 2, 2020
Watch NASA TV for continuous coverage as the spacecraft proceeds toward splashdown off the coast of Florida, Sunday, Aug. 2: https://t.co/mzKW5uDsTi pic.twitter.com/QOni0gSJHU
Today, August 2nd, Dragon Endeavour reentered Earth’s fiery atmosphere at a speed of around 17,500 miles per hour with the astronauts aboard. The spacecraft experienced high temperatures over 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, it deployed its sets of parachutes to slow down and conduct a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine shared his excitement -"We have SPLASHDOWN! Welcome home Behnken and Hurley!" he said. It is the first time the company returns humans from space. Crew Dragon’s successful splashdown marks the end of the Demo-2 mission, that oficially returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States.
Dragon's four main parachutes have deployed pic.twitter.com/iU5Uy7lHbM— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 2, 2020
SpaceX recovery teams aboard a ship called ‘GO Navigator’, are tasked with recovering the spacecraft and astronauts. The recovery vessel features a medical room where Behnken and Hurley will undergo medical checks to ensure their health is stable. NASA said that 40 personnel are aboard the ships, including engineers, trained water recovery experts, medical professionals, NASA cargo experts, and other supporting crew to assist the astronauts’ return. "The recovery process should take about 45 minutes to an hour. Two fast boats carrying SpaceX personnel have deployed from the main recovery ship and are on their way to the Crew Dragon. The first boat will check the spacecraft and test for hazardous vapors in the immediate area. After they determine it’s safe, the Crew Dragon will be readied for recovery," the agency wrote in a press release. "Meanwhile, those aboard the second fast boat will recover the spacecraft’s parachutes from the water. The main recovery ship will hoist the Crew Dragon onto the deck, and once the hatch is opened, medical teams will check out the astronauts and help them out of the spacecraft."
Astronauts Behnken and Hurley brought back a historic United States flag that Hurley left at the space station in 2011, during the last Space Shuttle flight. Returning the flag to Earth symbolizes the beginning of a new era in American human spaceflight. – “This flag has spent some time up here, on the order of 9 years... I'm very proud to return this flag home and see what's next for it on its journey to the Moon,” Hurley said.
The Demo-2 mission's success demonstrates SpaceX Crew Dragon is ready to launch astronauts on future operational missions. The company is scheduled to deploy a crew of four astronauts to the space station in September.
UPDATE: SpaceX teams recovered the Crew Dragon spacecraft from the ocean with the astronauts aboard.
Congratulations SpaceX and NASA!