SpaceX returned two NASA astronauts to Earth Sunday in a dramatic splashdown avoiding a tropical storm and safely returning the pair known as the “space dads” home.
The Dragon Endeavour capsule parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico to close out a historic flight by Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX.
The splashdown marked the first by NASA astronauts in 45 years and the first with a commercial spacecraft.
Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken rode the SpaceX Dragon capsule, nicknamed Endeavour, back to Earth in about 19 hours after departing the International Space Station. The landing went smoothly by all accounts as the once white spacecraft slowly descended into the gulf waters off the coast of Pensacola, as Tropical Storm Isaias was barreling up Florida’s Atlantic coast.
“Welcome back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX,” the company’s Mission Control said.
The now soot-covered spacecraft was hoisted onto a recovery ship called Go Navigator. Hurley and Behnken waited about an hour longer inside the capsule for crews to clear the spacecraft before they were helped out by SpaceX and NASA teams. Medical staff were standing by to check over the astronauts.
The astronauts had to wait a little longer to exit their spacecraft due to some unwanted spectators in the area and then for some extra safety precautions when potentially hazardous fumes were detected around the spacecraft.
“Let’s just keep everybody safe, no reason to rush,” Hurley said as teams waited for the fumes to drop below acceptable levels.
Private vessels in the splashdown area were told to leave as they attempted to approach the SpaceX spacecraft.
“Maybe next time we shouldn’t announce our landing zone,” senior SpaceX engineer Kate Tice quipped as private vessels surrounded the landing site.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the boats “made a beeline” for the spacecraft after splashdown.
Cheers and applause could be heard from the SpaceX headquarters after both astronauts were safely out of the spacecraft.
After being the last to leave the capsule, Hurley thanked everyone involved in the mission.
“Take a moment to just cherish this day, especially given all the things that have happened this year,” he said to all the NASA and SpaceX teams involved.