NASA SpaceX Demo-2 Mission Concludes with Safe Return of Astronauts

NASA SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 crew returns to Earth.
Credit: NASA (screenshot)

Two NASA astronauts that rode the maiden crewed Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) and back have safely returned to Earth. The capsule splashed down safely under its four main parachutes at 18:48 UTC this evening.

After 62 days aboard the ISS, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken climbed into the Crew Dragon Endeavour heading for home. After successfully undocking from the station’s Harmony module at 23:35 UTC on Saturday, the spacecraft completed two small burns to separate itself from the orbiting laboratory.

Once clear of the station, Dragon Endeavour autonomously completed four separate departure burns and Doug and Bob were on their way home.

When the pair left, NASA had the choice of seven different splashdown locations depending on which offered the most preferable weather conditions. After monitoring the weather at each location, the agency ultimately selected Pensacola. With a splashdown location finalised, the spacecraft performed a phasing burn overnight that put it on the correct trajectory.

At 17:51 UTC earlier this evening, final preparations for reentry began with the separation of the “claw” umbilical that connects the capsule and trunk’s systems. This was followed soon after by trunk separation, a deorbit burn, nosecone separation, and maneuvers to correctly orientate the capsule for reentry.

During reentry, hot plasma surrounding the capsule caused an expected communications blackout leaving the pair entirely on their own. Six excruciating minutes later, the world got its first look at the returning Dragon Endeavour failing through the sky.

Approximately 5,500 meters above sea level, the spacecraft autonomously deployed its two drogue parachutes and soon after its four main parachutes. Just three minutes later, Doug and Bob splashed down off the coast of Pensacola safe and sound.

With a successful splashdown, the SpaceX Crew Dragon has completed its crewed orbital test mission. NASA and SpaceX teams will now review data detailing the performance of the vehicle collected during its maiden mission. Once this review is completed, NASA will determine if the spacecraft is fit to enter active service.

During their time aboard the ISS, Doug and Bob contributed more than 100 hours of time in support of the orbiting laboratory. According to NASA, this included assisting with various investigations, participating in public engagement events, and supporting four spacewalks. The spacewalks in particular played a pivotal service to the station with Behnken and fellow NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy installing new batteries to the station’s power grid.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.