CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Eleven Apollo program crews splashed down in either the Pacific or Atlantic oceans. However, since the end of the last moon mission, astronauts have returned from space with a landing on solid ground. As soon as this year, astronauts flying with SpaceX as part of the NASA Commercial Crew Program will once again conclude their spaceflights with an ocean landing.
Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 command module splash down in the Pacific Ocean after Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins’ successful mission to the moon.
Due to a weather system approaching what would have brought 6-foot waves to the crew's original splash down point, the Apollo 11 astronauts landed 250 miles northeast in a different area of the Pacific Ocean.
On re-entry, the astronauts experienced approximately 6.4 Gs.
"Got our friend the moon whipping by the field of view right now," Aldrin said while the command module was moving at 34,630 feet per second toward the Pacific Ocean.
Collins recalled his experience returning to Earth in the 2006 movie "In the Shadow of the Moon."
"I can remember the beautiful water. We were out in the deep ocean in the Pacific," Collins said. "It was such a startling violet color. I remember looking at the ocean and admiring: 'Nice ocean you've got here planet Earth.'''
After splash down, the astronauts were retrieved and brought aboard the U.S.S. Hornet, where they were greeted by President Richard Nixon and arrived back on land at Pearl Harbor two days later.
This Pacific Ocean water landing would be repeated for the next six missions until the space shuttle program began.
A half-century later, NASA’s Commercial Crew astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will become the first astronauts to splash down in an American spacecraft since the Apollo program.
NASA selected SpaceX and Boeing to develop spacecraft to transport U.S. astronauts. Both companies are in the final stages of certifying their capsules to carry humans.
While astronauts inside Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will touchdown on land, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon occupants will return to Earth Apollo astronaut-style with a water landing.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will launch from Cape Canaveral at the end of this year carrying the astronauts to the International Space Station and returning them to Earth for a water landing in the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.
In March, during an uncrewed test flight of Crew Dragon to the space station, the spacecraft successfully ended its test with a splash down in the Atlantic Ocean.