Marking a first in space history, the American astronaut duo of Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley splashed down into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, August 2 using a capsule created by SpaceX, a private corporation, not NASA.
The pair floated down to the Gulf suspended below four giant parachutes after having stayed aboard the International Space Station for two months. During reentry, their craft, which was completely designed by Elon Musk’s firm, endured temperatures of over 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Considered the ultimate triumph for the entrepreneur and his pioneering company, the men who were blasted into space aboard a rocket dubbed the “Dragon” two months ago safely returned to Earth in a spectacular splashdown reminiscent of the Apollo landings in the Gulf of Mexico in years past.
The pair were forced to stay in their capsule for several minutes after noxious fuel fumes were detected outside the vessel after it had been plucked out of the sea and hoisted aboard a rescue craft.
After finally allowed to emerge, Behnken and Hurley then breathed fresh air for the first time in more than two months before being shepherded into a helicopter to speed their homecoming at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
The capsule, heavily streaked by scorch marks from reentry, remained on the deck of the recovery vessel until it also was taken to the Naval air base at Pensacola for inspection.
The last time there had been an astronaut splashdown in the United States was 45 years ago, when a joint Apollo/Soyuz team did so; all previous space travel in the United States has been undertaken through NASA, which is part of the federal government.
In Sunday’s successful conclusion of the SpaceX mission, Musk’s longtime dream of a private corporation sending individuals into space — and getting them home again in safety — finally came true after years of trials.
One of the SpaceX communications specialists welcoming the astronauts back to Earth after the splashdown told them “Thank you for flying SpaceX.”
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 2, 2020