NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken have returned home, marking the end of a historic mission that brought space flight back to US soil.
The team splashed down off the coast of Pensacola, Florida in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:48pm ET, following a two-month mission on the International Space Station.
Hurley and Behnke began their journey when they took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on May 30 – the first time in nine years an American crew launched from US soil.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station Saturday with two US astronauts on board, beginning their 19-hour journey back to Earth despite a storm threatening the return.
On entering the atmosphere, the Crew Dragon faced scorching temperatures of around 3,450 degrees Fahrenheit as the craft deployed four red and white parachutes to slow its speed down from over 400 miles per hour to 15 miles per hour, before safely landing on the ocean.
This is the first water landing by NASA since 1957, when crews were still using the Apollo rockets for American moon missions.
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NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken have returned home, marking the end of a historic mission that brought space flight back to US soil. The team splashed down off the coast of Pensacola, Florida in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:48pm ET, following a two-month mission on the International Space Station
SpaceX Dragon has deorbited, completing one of the final stages before splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico. NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are heading back to Earth following a historic two-month mission on the International Space Station
Vessel ‘Go Navigator’ left Pensacola pass prior to the return to retrieve the crew, which will use its hydraulic lift on the bottom to hoist the Dragon Endeavour carrying Hurley and Behnken.
A number of boats approached Dragon after splash down and the teams will work to pull the capsule from the ocean.
Hurley and Behnken spent a total of 63 days on the ISS, participating in research and space walks to repair satellites on the massive ship.
The splashdown followed the capsules deorbit, which began 1:56pm ET.
Dragon sent a number of signals to the NASA team to keep them informed of the steps as the traveled over the Indian Ocean.
The deorbit burn is the longest use of the thrusters during the entire trip home for the astronauts, which lasts for more than 11 minutes.
The video connection between the ground team and Crew Dragon was disabled for deorbit. Dragon sent confirmations to the NASA crew to keep them informed of the steps as the traveled over the Indian Ocean. Pictured is the team inside the capsule minutes before deorbiting
And Dragon operated autonomously, leaving Hurley and Behnken tasked with keeping tabs on the trajectory., along with a number of data points.
At this time, the capsule also switches to battery power to control the movements and deploys the heat shields to protect itself and the astronauts inside.
The astronauts were initially set to land in the Atlantic Ocean, but due to the threat of Tropical Storm Isaias, SpaceX shifted the target to the Gulf of Mexico.
The weather, however, was optimal for a splashdown – blue skies and a few puffy, white clouds.
NASA footage showed the capsule drifting slowly away from the ISS in the darkness of space Saturday, closing out two months aboard for the first US astronauts to reach the orbiting lab on an American spacecraft in nearly a decade.
‘And they are off!’ the US space agency tweeted.
Vessel ‘Go Navigator’ left Pensacola pass prior to the return to retrieve the crew, which will use its hydraulic lift on the bottom to hoist the Dragon Endeavor carrying Hurley and Behnken
The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, shown here separating from the International Space Station, has begun its return journey to Earth
NASA later added the capsule was confirmed to be ‘on a safe trajectory.’
‘It’s been a great two months, and we appreciate all you’ve done as a crew to help us prove out Dragon on its maiden flight,’ Hurley told the remaining US station crew member Chris Cassidy, as Crew Dragon autonomously eased away from its docking port to begin the 21-hour journey home.
NASA opted to go ahead with bringing the pair home despite the threat of Isaias, which was downgraded to a tropical storm from a hurricane on Saturday.
Separation confirmed: The Dragon capsules performs four departure burns to move away from the ISS. They are returning to earth with a rare splashdown scheduled for Sunday
The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, left, before it undocks from the International Space Station
This photo provided by NASA shows, from left, front, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley during an interview on the International Space Station on Saturday
SpaceX broadcasts the return of the Dragon capsule’s crew to Earth on Saturday in a webcast
‘Now is the entry, descent and splashdown phase after we undock, hopefully a little bit later today,’ Hurley said in a farewell ceremony aboard the ISS that was broadcast on NASA TV.
The splashdown was the final step in the mission designed to test SpaceX’s human spaceflight system – including launch, docking, splashdown, and recovery operations.
The last time astronauts made an ocean landing was on July 1975 during an Apollo mission.
SpaceX tweeted about the successful separation of the Crew Dragon capsule as they began the journey back to earth
This NASA video frame grab image shows SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft with NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken watching an infrared view of the ISS on their screens after undocking from it
The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule can be seen, right, docked to the International Space station, during a spacewalk conducted by astronauts Bob Behnken and Chris Cassidy
Bob Behnken is pictured inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on Friday before their journey back to Earth on Saturday
During the ISS ceremony on Saturday, Behnken said that ‘the hardest part was getting us launched. But the most important part is bringing us home.’
Addressing his son and Hurley’s son, he held up a toy dinosaur that the children chose to send on the mission and said: ‘Tremor The Apatosaurus is headed home soon and he’ll be with your dads.’
Behnken later tweeted: ‘All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go.’
Mission chief Chris Cassidy called it an ‘exciting day’ and hailed the importance of having a new means to transport astronauts.
The mission, which blasted off May 30, marked the first time a crewed spaceship had launched into orbit from American soil since 2011 when the space shuttle program ended.
It was also the first time a private company has flown to the ISS carrying astronauts.
For SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the mission represents another milestone for the reusable rockets his company pioneered to make spaceflight less costly and frequent.
And it would mark the first time that commercially developed space vehicles – owned and operated by a private entity rather than NASA – have carried Americans into orbit.
In this image from video made available by NASA, astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Bob Behnken prepare for undocking from the International Space Station
This photo provided by NASA shows from left, astronauts Bob Behnken, Chris Cassidy and Doug Hurley during an interview on the International Space Station on Friday
The American space agency paid SpaceX and aerospace giant Boeing a total of about $7 billion for their ‘space taxi’ contracts.
But Boeing’s program has floundered badly after a failed test run late last year, which left SpaceX, a company founded only in 2002, as clear frontrunner.
For the past nine years, US astronauts traveled exclusively on Russian Soyuz rockets, for a price of around $80 million per seat.
Hurley and Behnken took off from Launch Complex 39A on May 30 for ‘Launch America.’
The mission was originally set for May 27, but was aborted with less than 17 minutes remaining on the countdown clock due to bad weather.
Bob Behnken (r) and Doug Hurley (l) blasted off from Cape Canaveral on May 30 on board a SpaceX Crew Dragon, and are supposed to splash down off the coast of Florida on Sunday
The Falcon 9 rocket was pictured carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft on May 30
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