After a 64 day orbital round-journey to the International Space Station, the Crew Dragon spacecraft operated by Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken splashed down in perfect condition near the Gulf of Mexico, marking a triumphant finale to a historical feat in space exploration.
On August 2, 2020, the SpaceX spacecraft Crew Dragon Endeavor completed the first sea landing for NASA in 45 years since the joint U.S.-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz mission back in 1975. Launched on May 30, 2020, it was also the first journey into orbit for American astronauts from U.S. soil since the Space Shuttle’s retirement in 2011.
The spacecraft left the International Space Station on August 1, 2020, carrying 150 kg of cargo, including 90 kg of frozen samples for scientific research. After entering the Earth’s atmosphere, Dragon Endeavor suffered scorch marks as the friction generated heat of 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1927 Celsius) on the surface of the spacecraft before landing with its quad-parachute setup at 15 mph (24 km/h) in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Even after the U.S. Coast Guard established a 10-mile safe zone around the landing site, the capsule was met with an onslaught of private boats. SpaceX safety crew had to interfere and keep civilians away before they were able to lift the space capsule onboard the recovery ship. “Maybe next time we shouldn’t announce our landing zone”, noted SpaceX engineer Kate Tice. Luckily there were no further problems with unauthorized people sailing around the capsule.
Technicians on the recovery ship had to delay opening the hatch due to harmful fumes surrounding the capsule. But one of the astronauts inside calmed them down through radio, saying, “Take your time. We’re in no hurry.”
.@NASA astronauts @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug smile and give a thumbs up after the @SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour’s hatch was opened. https://t.co/5x8PATizvy pic.twitter.com/j1Iz9ikGPa
— NASA HQ PHOTO (@nasahqphoto) August 2, 2020
There was initial concern for NASA and SpaceX about trouble from the Tropical Storm Isaias in the Atlantic, which was brewing a couple of hundred miles away from the landing site. But on the day of the splashdown, the skies were perfectly clear, allowing NASA to monitor the capsule through its entire descent.
The four main parachutes have deployed. #LaunchAmerica pic.twitter.com/Ctu4v7hbMw
— NASA (@NASA) August 2, 2020
The mission was a resounding success, according to the NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein.
“We are entering a new era of human spaceflight,” Bridenstein added.
According to the President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX Gwynne Shotwell, the Crew Dragon Demo-2 is merely an embryo stage for an evolving journey “of bringing people regularly from low Earth orbit, then onto the moon and then ultimately to Mars.”