The two astronauts successfully returned home after months in orbit.
Back in May, SpaceX successfully launched a Crew Dragon capsule, mounted on a Falcon 9 rocket, up to the International Space Station. This was a pretty big deal, as not only was it the first time in nearly a decade that astronauts left the Earth from the US, but it was also the very first time a commercial aerospace company, rather than a government-run one like NASA, managed to get anyone off-world. Since then, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have been doing their duty on the ISS, conducting experiments and livin’ the floaty life, but over the weekend, the time finally came for the men to return home.
The two astronauts re-boarded the Crew Dragon capsule on Saturday and began a 20-hour return procedure. Thanks to onboard automation, most of the guesswork was taken out, but it was still a tense day waiting to see if they could make their landing safely. Thankfully, the plan went off without a hitch, and at 2:48PM Eastern time on Sunday, the capsule splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean, where SpaceX staff were able to retrieve Behnken and Hurley.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 2, 2020
Putting aside for the moment that this is the first US-managed space splashdown in 45 years (which is pretty awesome in itself), the success of this landing promises good things for SpaceX’s future. The journey and return of Crew Dragon was the very last test SpaceX needed to run to prove their design’s viability for space travel. Pending NASA’s approval, SpaceX will be able to deploy more astronauts to the ISS on a semi-regular basis. It’s a boon for NASA as well, as teaming up with SpaceX for launches will go a long way in getting more shuttles into orbit at a drastically lowered cost.
SpaceX is hoping to get a shuttle out as far as Mars some day, but that’s probably still a ways off. In the now, though, SpaceX is definitely NASA’s favorite, beating out other aeronautics companies like Boeing and Virgin Galactic in the race to commercialized space. Space colonies, here we come.