Behnken and Hurley Splash Down Safely Near Pensacola
Two NASA astronauts splashed down safely in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday for the first time in a commercially built and operated American crew spacecraft, returning from the International Space Station to complete a test flight that marks a new era in human spaceflight.
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 August 2, 2020 and was successfully recovered by SpaceX.
There were delays before opening the hatch as trace amounts of hypergolic fuels were detected in the air. Although the levels were below limits, the recovery team took time to purge the capsule to lower the levels.
Another situation: the US Coast Guard cleared an area of 10 nautical miles before splashdown. But shortly after splashdown, many pleasure boats made a beeline for the capsule. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine noted this "Was not what we were anticipating. All of America was very intrigued." SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell noted that SpaceX's focus was on keeping Behnken and Hurley safe and that in the future, they would ask for more Coast Guard assets.
“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.”
Behnken and Hurley’s return was 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.
NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight launched May 30 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 International Space Station’s 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. 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!”
Behnken and Hurley participated in a number of 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.
Behnken now is tied for most spacewalks by an American astronaut with Michael Lopez-Alegria, Peggy Whitson, and Chris Cassidy, each of whom has completed 10 spacewalks. Behnken conducted four spacewalks while on board the space station.
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 back 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.
Steve Stich, Manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program: "Refurbishment of this capsule will take four months. The capsule is returning to Area 59 at the Cape. NASA Personnel will follow along throughout the SpaceX refurbishment process."
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said that the Dragon Capsule is designed to be re-used five to ten times.
The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station. This could allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration, including helping us prepare for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.
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