Two NASA astronauts splashed down safely in the Gulf of Mexico Aug. 2, 2020, for the first time in a commercially built and operated American crew spacecraft, returning from the International Space Station (ISS) to complete a test flight that featured the first splashdown for American astronauts since Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand, and Donald “Deke” Slayton landed in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii on July 24, 1975, at the end of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, carrying Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, splashed down under parachutes in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida at 2:48 p.m. EDT Sunday and was successfully recovered by SpaceX. After returning to shore, the astronauts flew back to Houston.
“Welcome home, Bob and Doug! Congratulations to the NASA and SpaceX teams for the incredible work to make this test flight possible,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “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.”
NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight launched May 30, 2020, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After reaching orbit, Behnken and Hurley named their Crew Dragon spacecraft “Endeavour” as a tribute to the first space shuttle each astronaut had flown aboard.
Nearly 19 hours later, Crew Dragon docked to the forward port of the ISS Harmony module May 31.
“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,” said SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell. “Congratulations to the entire SpaceX and NASA team on such an extraordinary mission.”
Behnken and Hurley participated in scientific experiments, spacewalks, and public engagement events during their 62 days aboard station. Overall, the astronaut duo spent 64 days in orbit, completed 1,024 orbits around Earth, and traveled 27,147,284 statute miles.
The astronauts contributed more than 100 hours of time to supporting the orbiting laboratory’s investigations.
Behnken conducted four spacewalks while on board the space station with Expedition 63 Commander and NASA colleague Chris Cassidy that included installing lithium-ion batteries, power and Ethernet cables, and a protective storage unit for robotic operations. They also removed shields and coverings to prepare for the arrival later this year of the Nanoracks commercial airlock on a SpaceX cargo delivery mission.
The Demo-2 test flight is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which has worked with the U.S. aerospace industry to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil to the space station for the first time since 2011. This is SpaceX’s final test flight and is providing data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, splashdown, and recovery operations.
Crew Dragon Endeavour will return to SpaceX’s Dragon Lair in Florida for inspection and processing. Teams will examine the spacecraft’s data and performance from throughout the test flight. The completion of Demo-2 and the review of the mission and spacecraft pave the way for NASA to certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system for regular flights carrying astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceX is readying the hardware for the first rotational mission, called Crew-1, later this year. This mission would occur after NASA certification, which is expected to take about six weeks.
Dragon Endeavour is lifted out of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and onto the SpaceX “GO Navigator” recovery vessel. Image credit: NASA TV