Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley rode their SpaceX Dragon capsule to a flawless splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday right on time at 2:48 p.m. EDT marking the U.S.’s successful return to manned space launch business after a nine-year absence. “Welcome back to Planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX,” Mission Control said to the astronauts moments after the capsule hit the water just south of Pensacola and remained upright. Within a couple of minutes, recovery boats were beside the capsule to check for noxious fumes and to pick up two drogue parachutes that provided the high-altitude deceleration and the four parachutes that carried the Dragon the last 2,000 feet to the splash zone.
The capsule released from the International Space Station flawlessly on Saturday morning and started a series of degrading orbits toward atmospheric reentry that lasted 19 hours. That all happened autonomously as Behnken and Hurley monitored the big touch screen displays. It was streamed live with the astronauts providing commentary as the capsule took them toward a fiery reunion with gravity.
It was the first time U.S. astronauts had returned to earth in a water landing in 45 years. It also marked the first commercially funded and operated manned space mission. It is actually the culmination of two tests of the manned launch system that could become a mainstay of the U.S.’s return to that role. “The Demo-2 mission is the final major milestone for SpaceX’s human spaceflight system to be certified by NASA for operational crew missions to and from the International Space Station,” SpaceX said in its text description with the video streaming. All going according to plan, four astronauts will ride the Crew Dragon to the ISS in September in SpaceX’s first revenue flight.