The NASA SpaceX crew has returned - here's what happened on their mission

By Alex Nelson
Tuesday, 4th August 2020, 12:45 pm
Updated Tuesday, 4th August 2020, 12:45 pm
The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft as it lands with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard (Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft as it lands with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard (Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken have once again made history, splashing down off the coast of Florida.

The mission - Crew Dragon Demo-2 - launched from the Kennedy Space Centre on 30 May, and was notable for being the first of its kind undertaken by NASA to make use of a rocket and capsule system provided by a private company.

Just under 64 days later, the capsule landed back on earth, bringing the historic mission to the International Space Station to an end.

SpaceX – the American aerospace company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk – provided the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule used to transport the astronauts, the first time the space transportation firm has launched a crew into space.

The purpose of the mission was to demonstrate SpaceX's ability to ferry astronauts to the space station and back safely.

How was the landing?

Though images of astronauts splash-landing in the ocean are fairly common, the landing of the Crew Dragon capsule was the first such landing for NASA since 1975.

The astronauts returned to Earth safely, but the operation did not go without its hitches. Once the capsule was in the water, a flotilla of private boats converged around it, at least one of them flying a flag in praise of President Trump.

SpaceX personnel were forced to chase them farther away, with the danger of a leak of toxic propellant fumes from the spacecraft thrusters posing a danger to life.

What did the mission achieve?

The success of the mission allows for human-rating certification of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and SpaceX's crew transportation systems and abilities. The Crew Dragon capsule will now be certified by NASA's Commercial Crew Programme for more long-term manned missions.

It's all to pave the way for future crewed missions to the International Space Station, the Moon, and - eventually - Mars.

It's also hoped that SpaceX's success could bolster its progress in its commercial space flight programmes, allowing for space tourism and taking non-astronaut personnel into orbit for the first time in the near future.

What did the astronauts do?

While onboard the International Space Station, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken linked up with ISS Expedition 63 crew, which consists of NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts, Ivan Vagner and Anatoli Ivanishin.

During their time aboard the space station, Hurley and Behnken spent over 100 hours completing science experiments. They travelled an incredibly 27 million miles, orbiting the Earth over 1,000 times.

Behnken also completed four spacewalks with Chris Cassidy.

When is the next Crew Dragon mission?

Following the Endeavour capsule's successful test flight, its first fully operational mission will come in 2021, after the craft has been refurbished.

NASA has agreed to allow astronauts to fly on the reused Crew Dragon, with a planned launch in February 2021.

This is dependent on the launch date of the Crew-1 mission, SpaceX's first operational astronaut flight, which is due to transport four members of Expedition 64 crew to the International Space Station in late September 2020.