SpaceX capsule with NASA astronauts lands in Gulf of Mexico

Marco Green
August 4, 2020

Launching in May, the mission was the first manned spaceflight from American soil in almost a decade, and the first launch of NASA astronauts by a private company.

Sunday's landmark arrival, which closed out the unprecedented crewed mission by a private space company, was also the first water landing by NASA since 1975.

The landmark mission, launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on May 31, marked the first time the space agency launched people from United States soil since its shuttle program retired in 2011.

Pilot Doug Hurley, one of two astronauts on board along with commander Bob Behnken, said: "It's truly our honor and privilege".

"We're both super, super proud having been just a small part of the team that accomplished bringing those spaceflights back to the Florida coast and bringing that capability back to America", astronaut Behnken said.

In a post-launch conference back in May, Elon Musk - the founder of SpaceX - said he was not keen to "declare victory yet", emphasising that the "return can be more risky than the ascent".

A SpaceX recovery ship with more than 40 staff, including doctors and nurses, moved in quickly after splashdown and lifted the 4.5-metre capsule on to its deck.

The hatch opening was delayed by the detection of toxic fumes in the outer shell of the capsule.

Hurley reported they were "all good" after hitting the water.

The recovery team had to clear the private vessels from the area before it could retrieve the spacecraft, since the crowd could have posed a hazard to Behnken and Hurley.

"We definitely are old dogs and like some of our old tricks".

"It's really establishing the business model for the future", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an appearance on NASA TV Aug. 2 a couple hours before splashdown.

"We are entering a new era of human spaceflight, where NASA is no longer the purchaser, owner and operator of all the hardware", he told reporters. "On behalf of a grateful Nation, thank you!" SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk was there, watching the screens and speaking from time to time with SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.

The mission also cements SpaceX's spot as the most valuable firm in the "New Space" industry and is likely to aid future fundraising efforts, which have recently included discussions of a deal that would value SpaceX at $44 billion.

NASA has contracted six round trips on Crew Dragon going forward to ferry astronauts to and from the space station.

First, it jettisoned its "trunk" that contains its power, heat and other systems, which burned up in the atmosphere.

Endeavour then deployed two sets of parachutes on its descent, bringing its speed down to a mere 15 miles per hour (24 kph) as it hit the ocean.

The splashdown is the final step in the mission created to test SpaceX's human spaceflight system - including launch, docking, splashdown, and recovery operations.

The next mission will carry three NASA astronauts and one from JAXA, Japan's space agency.

Boeing will fly another uncrewed test mission to the space station before launching crew.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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