SpaceX Demo-2 mission ends with first splashdown in 45 years
History was made today as two NASA astronauts returned to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a privately built and operated spacecraft. At 2:48 pm EDT, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard.
After 64 days and 1,024 orbits, SpaceX Demo-2, the first manned commercial test flight to the ISS, has racked up another first. Aside from being a milestone in the growth of commercial spaceflight, it's also the first return of astronauts to Earth aboard an American spacecraft since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, as well as the first manned splashdown since the end of the Apollo/Soyuz Test Project on July 25, 1975, when Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand, and Donald “Deke” Slayton landed off the coast of Hawaii in an Apollo Command Module.
Today's splashdown had a bit of last-minute drama as the weather services tracked a hurricane bearing down on the recovery area. However, conditions remained within safety tolerances and Endeavour was given the green light to undock from the ISS after its 62-day stay.
After splashdown, two fast boats from SpaceX's Go Navigator recovery ship intercepted the Crew Dragon and secured it in anticipation of the ship's arrival. The capsule was then hoisted aboard and Behnken and Hurley disembarked. They have since returned to shore and departed by air for Houston.
According to NASA, Demo-2's primary mission was to provide flight data from the Crew Dragon, the Falcon 9 booster, and ground systems regarding performance during launch, in-orbit, docking, splashdown, and recovery operations. Along with inspection of Endeavour and crew debriefings, this data will be used to evaluate the Crew Dragon over the next six weeks before granting it certification to begin official commercial operations with the Crew-1 mission later this year.
"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," says SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell. "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."
Watch Endeavour's return to Earth in the video below (skip to the 6.28 mark for the splashdown).
Update (Aug. 4, 2020): This article originally had video of a previous practice splashdown. The video has now been updated and we apologize for the error.