Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley blasted off to the International Space Station on May 30 aboard a SpaceX Falcon rocket. Their Crew Dragon capsule docked with the station on May 31.
The flight was a historic one for NASA. Not only was it the first commercial launch of a spacecraft with humans on board, but it also marked the first time U.S. astronauts had launched from U.S. soil in almost a decade.
Since the shuttle was retired in 2011, U.S. and Canadian astronauts have relied on the Russian space agency’s tried-and-true Soyuz rockets to get to the ISS at a cost of nearly $80 million per seat.
On Sunday, the pair returned to Earth on the Crew Dragon, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Pensacola, Fla., while tropical storm Isiais churned off the east coast of the state.
It was the first splashdown since 1975, following the Apollo-Soyuz test project between the Americans and the Soviet Union.
Unlike the splashdown of Apollo capsules, Behnken and Hurley remained in their capsule until they were brought aboard the retrieval ship, Go Navigator.
This was SpaceX’s Demo-2 flight, which tested the capabilities of the Crew Dragon.
The next step for NASA and SpaceX is to assess the performance of the spacecraft. If the review goes well, regular flights from U.S. soil with SpaceX could begin no earlier than the end of September.
Meanwhile, Boeing, the other commercial company contracted to launch astronauts to the ISS, still needs to conduct a successful orbital test flight of its CST-Starliner. Last December, the uncrewed capsule failed to reach the station in its test launch.