SpaceX astronauts make splashing return at Gulf of Mexico

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(31 May 2012) --- First picture from the Pacific showing the SpaceX Drgon following its splashdown. Photo credit: Michael Altenhofen/SpaceX

BOB BEHNKEN and Doug Hurley returned to Earth in the first water landing by an American space crew since 1975 on Aug 2, according to international media.

The first astronaut trip to orbit by a private company parachuted to a safe conclusion in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.

The New York Times (NYT) reported: “It was the first water landing by NASA astronauts since 1975, when the agency’s crews were still flying to and from orbit in the Apollo modules used for the historic American moon missions.

“Riding in a capsule built and operated by SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, two NASA astronauts — Robert L. Behnken and Douglas G. Hurley — splashed down near Pensacola, Fla., on Sunday afternoon,” NYT reported.

According to the report, the Crew Dragon capsule, suspended under four giant billowing orange-and-white parachutes, settled upright into the water at a gentle pace of 15 miles per hour at 2:48 p.m. Eastern time.

“On behalf of the SpaceX and NASA teams, welcome back to planet Earth,” Michael Heiman, the SpaceX engineer communicating with the astronauts, quipped after splashdown, “And thanks for flying SpaceX.”

More than an hour later, after Behnken and Hurley were helped out of the spacecraft, Hurley thanked the employees of NASA and SpaceX who helped make the mission a success.

Although NASA was the customer this time, the mission could be a first step to more people going to space for a variety of new activities, like sightseeing, corporate research and satellite repair. A goal of the space agency is to turn over to private enterprise some things it used to do.

“We are entering a new era of human spaceflight, where NASA is no longer the purchaser, owner and operator of all the hardware,” Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, said during a news conference after the splashdown. “We are going to be a customer, one customer of many customers in a very robust commercial marketplace for human spaceflight to low Earth orbit.”

NASA has hired two companies — SpaceX and Boeing — to provide transportation of astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and SpaceX was the first to be ready to take astronauts to orbit, launching Behnken and Hurley in May.

Gwynne Shotwell, the president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, told NYT the mission was “incredibly smooth” and a step to more ambitious trips.

”This is really just the beginning,” she said. “We are starting the journey of bringing people regularly to and from low Earth orbit and onto the moon and then ultimately onto Mars.”