SpaceX capsule with NASA astronauts lands in Gulf of Mexico

SpaceX Crew Dragon Departs ISS for Earth With Two US Astronauts

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday afternoon, after a 63-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The return of Behnken and Hurley capped the first mission in which USA astronauts flew to the station on an American spacecraft since NASA's shuttle program ended in 2011.

After collecting the capsule, SpaceX staff encountered residual fuel vapors on the Dragon, which delayed progress on helping Behnken and Hurley to exit.

The recovery teams reached the SpaceX Dragon capsule and gathered the parachutes in the water.

US President Donald Trump also celebrated the safe return of the astronauts.

Their mission, named Demo-2, marked the first time Nasa had launched astronauts from USA soil in nine years.

NASA now hopes to buy spaceflight and other services from private companies like SpaceX in order to help create an economy in orbit around the Earth, where the space agency can be a buyer of services instead of a provider. This flight with people on board was the final test for SpaceX's crew system to be certified by NASA as "operational" for future astronaut missions.

NASA officials said Crew Dragon, a pod with seven astronaut seats, was in a "very healthy" condition while docked at the space station, where astronauts conducted tests and monitored how the spacecraft performed in space. Astronauts Behnken and Hurley took off from USA soil on May 30, riding aboard Crew Dragon spacecraft in a historic test flight to the ISS. And at the time, few people at NASA expected Elon Musk's scrappy rocket startup would be the organization that brought crewed launches back to United States soil.

The event will mark the first splashdown for USA astronauts since July 2011 and the first entry, descent, and landing of a Crew Dragon spacecraft. He also thanked SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who flew into Houston to greet the astronauts after watching their return to Earth from SpaceX's mission control in Hawthorne, California. Two small SpaceX boats arrived quickly to begin the operation to prepare the capsule to be pulled out by the main recovery ship, where crews will tend to the spacecraft's passengers.

Sometime in the spring of 2021, four astronauts including Megan McArthur, who is Behnken's wife, will climb aboard it, along with fellow NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency, for their own mission to the ISS. SpaceX is readying the hardware for the first rotational mission, called Crew-1, later this year.

The mission marked the first human spaceflight through a government-private partnership.

Addressing a socially distanced welcome ceremony in a hangar, Behnken, a veteran of the Space Shuttle program, praised the SpaceX team behind the successful mission.

"Today we really made history", Bridenstine told an earlier press conference.

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

The last time any NASA astronauts came home by splashing down was in 1975 - and back then, they were in an Apollo space vehicle.

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