This NASA screenshot shows Dragon Endeavor shortly after being hoisted on the deck of recovery ship SpaceX "GO Navigator" on August 2, 2020. Source: AFP

WASHINGTON.- The first United States manned spacecraft traveling to the International Space Station (ISS) since the end of the ferry era, a decade ago, successfully landed this Sunday with two astronauts on board in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The four main parachutes of the Crew Dragon Endeavor capsule, from the private firm SpaceX, were deployed and floated gently after the spacecraft, with the astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley On board, it will land on the coast of Pensacola, Florida, at 2:48 pm, as scheduled.

It is the first time in 45 years that American astronauts have returned to Earth with a parachute drop over the sea, and it was the first commercially manufactured and operated spacecraft.


This NASA frame-capture image shows speedboats moving toward the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft after its landing off the Pensacola coast of Florida on August 2, 2020. Source: AFP

"Welcome back to planet Earth and thank you for flying with SpaceX," stated Mission Control from the company's headquarters.

"It is truly our honor and privilege," replied Hurley.

Donald Trump, who had traveled to Florida for the capsule launch two months ago, praised the successful return and thanked the project participants. "It is wonderful to have NASA astronauts back on Earth after a very successful two-month mission. Thank you all!" He wrote on his Twitter account.

Behnken and Hurley were the first American astronauts to travel in this capsule to the ISS, 400 km from Earth.

The capsule was collected in Atlantic waters by the recovery boat "GO Navigator". There the astronauts underwent a medical check-up before being transferred to the mainland.


The recovery boat "GO Navigator"
The recovery boat "GO Navigator" Source: AFP

The success of the mission once again demonstrated the ability of the United States to send its astronauts into space and bring them back. Since the last flight of a space shuttle in 2011, he had had to appeal to Russia's collaboration for that purpose and pay about $ 80 million per seat occupied in their Soyuzs.

The final phase of this operation of the North American space agency in partnership with the company of the eccentric businessman Elon muskuntil last moment, he faced fears about the risk of tropical storm Isaías, which borders the Florida peninsula and which had ruled out the original place for the landing.

The mission's success also marks a major victory for SpaceX, which Musk founded in 2002 and has overtaken Boeing, its top competitor in the commercial space race. The return paves the way for the launch of another SpaceX crew, likely next month, and for space tourism trips next year.


This NASA image obtained on August 2, 2020 shows NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon "Endeavor" spacecraft.
This NASA image obtained on August 2, 2020 shows NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon "Endeavor" spacecraft. Source: AFP

The United States has paid those two companies about $ 7 billion for their contracts for the "space taxi" serviceBut the efforts of the aerospace giant have so far seriously failed.

Furthermore, Behnken and Hurley have become the first astronauts to be taken into space by a private company hired by NASA.

Re-entry into the atmosphere

Hours before its arrival, the Crew Dragon capsule "Endeavor" had to go through several stages. At 13:51, detached from its "trunk", which contains its energy source, heating and other systems, which were incinerated in the atmosphere. So their thrusters were fired to maneuver in orbit and achieve the proper trajectory for the landing.

The program indicated that at 14:32 it would re-enter the atmosphere at a speed of around 28,000 kilometers per hour. The thermal shield of the ship had to withstand temperatures of 1900 degrees Celsius, leading to a communications outage for several minutes. Then the capsule had to deploy two sets of parachute on its descent, to reduce your speed to only 24 kilometers per hour when you reach the water.


This NASA screenshot shows recovery personnel offering assistance as NASA astronaut Bob Behnken exits the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, on August 2, 2020.
This NASA screenshot shows recovery personnel offering assistance as NASA astronaut Bob Behnken exits the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, on August 2, 2020. Source: AFP

The spacecraft departed from the International Space Station on Saturday night. NASA images showed the capsule slowly drifting away from the ISS in the darkness of space, ending a two-month stay for both crew.

During a farewell ceremony at the station, Behnken stated, "The hardest part was launching us. But the most important part is getting us home."


Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley Source: AFP

Addressing her son and Hurley's son, he picked up a toy dinosaur that the children chose to send on the mission and said, "Tremor the Apatosaurus will be heading home soon and will be with his parents."

The return marks just the beginning of an era for Crew Dragon, as SpaceX and NASA look to future missions. The "Endeavor" will return to Dragon SpaceX headquarters in Florida, where it will undergo a six-week inspection process, in which the data and its performance will be analyzed to certify that the spacecraft is suitable for future missions in the low Earth orbit.

AFP and AP agencies

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