Two astronauts returned to Earth Sunday from their historic mission to the International Space Station in a capsule built and launched by Hawthorne-based SpaceX, splashing down successfully in the Gulf of Mexico.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, carrying astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, splashed down under parachutes at 11:48 a.m. PDT, hitting their target time exactly, and were retrieved in a NASA recovery boat off the coast of Pensacola, Florida.

“Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed! Welcome back to Earth, @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug!” SpaceX tweeted at 11:49 a.m.

A little more than an hour later, Behnken and Hurley were safely removed from the capsule.

The target location for the splashdown was changed from the Atlantic Ocean due to the approach of Hurricane Isaias toward Florida.

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.

“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,” Behnken said.

The astronauts left the space station Saturday, after being there since May 31, the day after SpaceX’s historic launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the first manned launch from U.S. soil since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011.

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.

The astronauts contributed more than 100 hours of time to supporting the orbiting laboratory’s investigations. Hurley conducted the Droplet Formation Study inside of the Microgravity Science Glovebox, which evaluates water droplet formation and water flow.

Hurley also conducted the Capillary Structures investigation, which studies the use of different structures and containers to manage fluids and gases.

Hurley and Behnken worked on numerous sample switch outs for the Electrolysis Measurement experiment, which looks at bubbles created using electrolysis and has implications for numerous electrochemical reactions and devices.

Both crew members also contributed images to the Crew Earth Observations study. CEO images help record how Earth is changing over time, from human-caused changes — such as urban growth and reservoir construction — to natural dynamic events, including hurricanes, floods and volcanic eruptions.

Behnken conducted four spacewalks while onboard the space station with Expedition 63 Commander and NASA colleague Chris Cassidy. The duo upgraded two power channels on the far starboard side of the station’s truss with new lithium-ion batteries.

They also routed power and Ethernet cables, removed H-fixtures that were used for ground processing of the solar arrays prior to their launch, installed a protective storage unit for robotic operations and removed shields and coverings in preparation for the arrival later this year of the Nanoracks commercial airlock on a SpaceX cargo delivery mission.

Their trip in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft — named Endeavour — was technically a demonstration flight, showing off the capabilities of the ship as NASA advances private partnerships to revive U.S. space travel.

Behnken and Hurley named their Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavour as a tribute to the first space shuttle each astronaut had flown aboard.

“This is something the whole world can take some pleasure in and can really look at it as an achievement of humanity,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said.

“These are difficult times when there’s not that much good news. I think this is one of those things that is universally good no matter where you are on planet Earth.”

SpaceX is already deep into planning the next mission. The company will move ahead with Crew Dragon’s first “operational mission.”

That mission will launch four astronauts — Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi — to the space station in late September.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *