by Douglas Messier
The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, bringing NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley home after nearly 64 days in space.
The splashdown at 2:48 p.m. EDT ended a successful flight test of Crew Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS), paving the way for the first operational mission to the orbital facility scheduled for late September.
The capsule was hauled aboard the SpaceX “Go Navigator” recovery ship with the astronauts on board. The hatch opening was delayed until 1 hour 11 minutes after splashdown due to the need to purge toxic chemicals from outside of the capsule.
Behnken and Hurley remained in their spacesuits during recovery. Readings the astronauts took indicated there were no toxic chemicals in the capsule’s atmosphere.
The astronauts are now undergoing medical tests on board the recovery ship. They will be flown to shore aboard a helicopter, and then transfered to an airplane for a flight back to Houston, Texas.
Behnken and Hurley undocked Endeavour from ISS on Saturday evening. They spent one final night in space testing out the spacecraft before returning to Earth.
The astronauts lifted off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30. They docked with ISS the following day, joining the three-member Expedition 63 crew.
The successful flight wraps up the Crew Dragon flight test program. An uncrewed vehicle launched to the space station in March 2019 and splashed down after a six-day flight.
That Crew Dragon capsule exploded on a test stand as its abort system was being tested on April 20, 2019. The capsule was being prepared for a later in-flight abort test.
The explosion delayed the crewed flight test from summer 2019 to May 2020 as SpaceX engineer redesigned the propulsion system and prepared a new capsule for the mission.
NASA officials have said the crewed Crew Dragon spacecraft performed very well during its stay in space. Engineers will now evaluate date to certify the vehicle for operational missions.
SpaceX developed Crew Dragon under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft was based on a cargo Dragon vehicle that Elon Musk’s company developed to resupply the space station.