Astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, strapped into a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule wrapping up its first piloted test flight, plunged back to Earth on Sunday with a fiery reentry to splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico to close out an historic 64-day flight.
Descending under four large orange-and-white parachutes, the Crew Dragon — named Endeavour by the astronauts — settled to a 15-mph impact about 39 miles south of Pensacola, Florida, at 2:48 p.m. ET.
“Endeavour, on behalf of the SpaceX and NASA teams, welcome back to planet Earth, thanks for flying SpaceX,” radioed SpaceX engineer Mike Heiman.
“It was truly our honor and privilege to fly the (inaugural) flight of the Crew Dragon Endeavour,” Hurley replied. “Congratulations to everybody at SpaceX.”
A few hours later, on hand to help welcome the astronauts back home in Houston, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the flight marked a new chapter in human spaceflight.
“What this heralds, really, is fundamentally a new era in spaceflight, a new era in space exploration,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. And this is the result of an incredible amount of work from people at SpaceX, people at NASA.”
And, perhaps, a few prayers.
“I’m not very religious, but I prayed for this one,” said Musk, clearly thrilled by the successful flight.
It was the first water landing by returning astronauts since the final flight of an Apollo capsule in 1975 and the first landing of a U.S. spacecraft carrying astronauts home from orbit since the shuttle program’s final flight in 2011.
Hurley and Behnken, both shuttle veterans, joked about getting nauseous and possibly throwing up while bobbing in the Crew Dragon awaiting recovery. But the landing zone provided the mildest of sea states with low, gentle waves and light winds.
Fast response crews in speed boats raced to the capsule, floating upright, within minutes of splashdown to prepare the craft for a lift to the deck of the SpaceX recovery ship Go Navigator.
You can read the rest of William Harwood’s article at CBSnews.com