Miami, Aug 2 (efe-epa).- SpaceX’s Dragon Endeavour space capsule, carrying two NASA astronauts – Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley – made a controlled splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday after a 19-hour earthward voyage from the International Space Station.
As scheduled and with no problems of any kind, the capsule parachuted into the ocean at 2:48 pm local time near Pensacola, Florida.
The SpaceX recovery vessel Navigator was positioned just three nautical miles from the splashdown site and was on the scene quickly to recover the capsule as it floated on the calm sea.
The two astronauts, who are both “fine,” according to a NASA spokesperson, will undergo medical checkups before being flown to Houston.
Thus ended the historic Demo-2 mission launched on May 30 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and which certified the ability of SpaceX, the company owned by Tesla founder and entrepreneur Elon Musk, to make private commercial space travel a reality.
Behnken and Hurley’s was the first space flight from US soil on board a commercial vehicle to the ISS since NASA ended its space shuttle program in 2011. Since that time, the US has ferried astronauts and supplies to the ISS on board Russian rockets and space capsules, although it has mounted uncrewed cargo resupply flights to the orbiting platform using SpaceX vehicles.
Before entering the Earth’s atmosphere prior to touchdown, the Dragon Endeavour capsule separated from the cargo structure, which later disintegrated on reentry, thus reducing its weight to 21,200 pounds (about 9,600 kilograms).
Then, it made a maneuver to leave orbit and after entering the atmosphere two parachutes were deployed to slow it down, with more parachutes deploying later to guide it gently to the waves below.
Six other sites had been readied to receive the Dragon capsule, if it could not have landed near Pensacola, although the area in the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida had been ruled out as a landing zone due to the passage of Tropical Storm Isaias.
The Dragon capsule had disengaged automatically from the ISS at 2335 GMT on Saturday to begin its flight back to Earth.
Behnken and Hurley, who slept for eight of the 19 hours it took the capsule to return to Earth, were awakened Sunday morning by Mission Control with an audio tape of both men’s children, according to a statement issued by NASA.
In all, the pair spent 62 days on board the ISS during which the orbital platform made 1,024 orbits of the planet. They spent 114 hours performing research and witnessed the arrival and departure of several space vehicles at the ISS, NASA said.
Behnken participated in four spacewalks with another NASA astronaut, Chris Cassidy, who remains on board the ISS.
Although the trip into orbit was historic, so was the return to Earth, since this was the first time in 45 years that people on US territory could actually view the splashdown of a crewed space vehicle, the last time being on July 21, 1975, when the crew of an Apollo-Soyuz mission splashed down very near Hawaii.
In 2014, NASA signed contracts worth $6.8 billion with Boeing and SpaceX to develop a commercial space travel program, thus aiming to end US dependence on Russia’s Soyuz capsules to get US astronauts into orbit after the end of the space shuttle program.