In May, SpaceX launched Crew Dragon into orbit for the first-ever crewed space launch by a private company in the history of the United States, a launch that marked the first time in a decade that American astronauts went to space from American soil. On Sunday, just over two months after that historic launch, they made history again. the Crew Dragon spacecraft returned to Earth, successfully completing the crucial final phase of the Demo-2 mission.
On Sunday afternoon NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico -- the first human splashdown in 45 years after the final Skylab crew's return in 1974. A recovery ship GO Navigator retrieved the Crew Dragon spacecraft from the water. Behnken and Hurley's safe return marks the end of their historic two-month mission that saw the astronauts dock with the International Space Station where they remained before returning to Earth.
According to TechCrunch, the successful completion of the Demo-2 mission means that things should be in place for Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 to be certified as rated for human spaceflight with NASA. A final review of the entire mission will need to be completed before that certification is granted. If it is granted, Crew Dragon could enter regular service as America's primary method of transportation to the ISS. Since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, the United States has relied on Russian spacecraft to fly crew to the ISS.
The first operational mission, Crew-1, is scheduled for late September and will take four astronauts -- NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Japan's Soichi Noguchi. The actual spacecraft Hurley and Behnken travelled in during Demo-2 is to be refurbished by SpaceX and is set to fly another crewed mission in spring 2021.
After a weather-related delay, Demo-2 launched from Florida's Kennedy Space Center on Saturday, May 30th. During the launch, the Crew Dragon was lifted into space by a Falcon 9 rocket and marked the first manned launch for the Elon Musk-founded Space X. If you're unfamiliar with Space X, you can find part of their official mission statement below.
"Building on the achievements of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, SpaceX is working on a next generation of fully reusable launch vehicles that will be the most powerful ever built, capable of carrying humans to Mars and other destinations in the solar system."
Photo: Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images