US' first crewed spaceship to ISS in 10 years returns

SpaceX Dragon Endeavour splashes down in Gulf of Mexico with two NASA astronauts on board

During reentry to Earth's atmosphere, the capsule's outer shell withstood temperatures as high as 3,500 Fahrenheit while Behnken and Hurley, wearing SpaceX's white flight suits strapped inside the cabin, experienced 85 Fahrenheit.

"Congratulations SpaceX & NASA on completing first crewed Dragon flight!", Musk wrote on Twitter after the splash-down, adding a United States flag emoji followed by "returned" - referring to a rivalry with Boeing over which company's astronaut crew would be the first to retrieve an American flag left on the space station in 2011, when the last crewed mission launched from USA soil.

Watch raw footage of the 2:48 p.m. EDT, Sunday, August 2, 2020, splashdown of SpaceX's Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida.

"It's truly our honour and privilege", said pilot Doug Hurley, who was joined on the mission by commander Bob Behnken.

"On behalf of di SpaceX and Nasa teams, welcome back to Planet Earth".

Next, the recovery ship Go Navigator closed in on the capsule.

The Coast Guard in Pensacola said it had deployed two vessels to keep the public at least 10 miles away from the capsule.

The opening of the hatch was delayed as a team worked to stop a potentially unsafe leak of rocket fuel vapour.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement, "I will tell you it's a lovely sunny day and a lot of boaters were out there and they were certainly intrigued". "And we need to make sure say we dey tell pipo say make dem no near di spacecraft for future".

About an hour after splashdown, the astronauts left the capsule and headed for shore in a helicopter.

"This day heralds a new age of space exploration", Musk said.

"Maybe next time we shouldn't announce our landing zone", said SpaceX engineer Kate Tice during NASA's live feed of the landing.

"I'm not very religious, but I prayed for this one", he said.

That means the US once again has its own ability to put people in orbit and return them safely. This program was NASA's solution to the retirement of the Space Shuttle nearly a decade ago.

Elon Musk's space program, SpaceX, spent the better part of six years getting to a place where it can successfully launch astronauts into orbit.

The US paid the two companies a total of about US$7 billion (S$9.6 billion) for their "space taxi" contracts, though aerospace giant Boeing's efforts have floundered. The company targets having crew members out of the Dragon within an hour of splashdown.

It then fired its thrusters to manoeuvre into the proper orbit and trajectory for splashdown.

It used two sets of parachutes on its descent, bringing its speed down as it hit the Gulf of Mexico. Boeing Co.is developing a second spacecraft for NASA's commercial crew program, the CST-100 Starliner, although the project has been beset by delays and a botched test flight previous year with no astronauts aboard.

The astronauts carried out a number of tasks and experiments while on the station, with Hurley snapping some great photos of what can be seen from space, including pictures of Cape Town, Joburg, and Pretoria.

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