'I prayed for this one' - Musk relief as astronauts complete first splashdown in 45 years

'I prayed for this one' - Musk relief as astronauts complete first splashdown in 45 years
By: World News Posted On: August 02, 2020 View: 33

'I prayed for this one' - Musk relief as astronauts complete first splashdown in 45 years

NASA and SpaceX have successfully brought astronauts back from the International Space Station with the first ocean landing in 45 years.

Astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken safely returned to Earth, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico 40 miles off Pensacola in Florida - early on Sunday evening.

The spacecraft went from 17,500mph (28,000kmh) in orbit to 350mph (560kmh) during re-entry, and finally to 15mph (24kmh) as it parachuted into the water.

During decent, it was exposed to a peak temperature of 1,900C (3,500F).

The historic mission began in May when NASA completed the first space launch from US soil for almost a decade, thanks to SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.

Support teams arrived at the spacecraft just after it landed, with members of the public in private boats looking on
Image: A support craft at the spacecraft - with private boats behind breaking an order to stay away

The landing could have been complicated by private boats which ignored restrictions and ventured close to the splashdown zone, one of which was flying a Trump campaign flag.

"Welcome back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX," said controllers at SpaceX headquarters.

More from Elon Musk

"It was truly our honour and privilege," replied Hurley.

The astronauts gave the thumbs up as a crane hauled the craft on to a recovery ship.

After medical checks by a crew who had been in quarantine, they were flown by helicopter to Pensacola, then to Houston.

Behnken and Hurley gave the thumbs up as the craft was lifted on to a recovery ship
Image: Behnken and Hurley (L-R) gave the thumbs up as the craft was lifted on to a recovery ship

"This has been quite an odyssey," Hurley said at a homecoming ceremony at Johnson Space Center.

"To be where we are now, the first crewed flight of Dragon, is just unbelievable."

He added: "It's a little bit overwhelming to see everybody here considering the things that have gone on the last few months since we've been off planet."

The astronauts were greeted by a small group of mask-wearing family and officials - including an emotional Elon Musk - who declared: "This day heralds a new age of space exploration. I'm not very religious, but I prayed for this one."

The billionaire entrepreneur later tweeted: "When space travel becomes as common as air travel, the future of civilization will be assured."

President Trump also praised the mission, posting: "Great to have NASA Astronauts return to Earth after very successful two month mission. Thank you to all!"

He had flown to Florida for the May lift-off, making him the first president to watch a lift-off since Bill Clinton.

The spacecraft can be controlled using touchscreens
Image: The spacecraft can be controlled using touchscreens
(L-R) Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley
Image: The astronauts began their mission in May

The launch, named Demo-2, was the first manned mission for Musk's spaceflight company SpaceX - and the first private involvement in taking astronauts to the ISS.

NASA will now fully certify the company to conduct manned launches in the future.

The next of these will feature Behnken's wife, Megan McArthur - an oceanographer and NASA astronaut who has previously flown one space shuttle mission.

America hasn't had the ability to launch astronauts from its own soil since 8 July 2011, when the Space Shuttle programme was retired.

NASA had been relying on Soyuz spacecraft, operated by Russia's space agency Roscosmos, to ferry its astronauts to the ISS.

Russian space launches aren't cheap - for astronauts travelling to the ISS using Soyuz rockets from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, it costs up to $86m (£70m) per seat.

NASA launched its Commercial Crew Program in 2010, to find private sector partners who could launch astronauts safely to the ISS, although funding issues delayed the initial launches.

Now SpaceX is offering to return this capability to American soil, charging just $55m (£45m) per seat.

Boeing is also bidding to contribute, although its seat costs have varied - according to different estimates between $70m (£57m) and $90m (£74m) - potentially making it more expensive than a Soyuz launch.

Boeing's test flight is scheduled for 20 December.

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