spacex dragon capsule

Nasa astronauts touch down after first private manned mission to the ISS

Image credit: reuters

Two US astronauts splash-landed in the Gulf of Mexico yesterday after spending a couple of months aboard the ISS, concluding Nasa’s first manned mission launched from US soil in nine years.

The mission was a historic moment for the US space agency, as astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley had been flown to the space station in a rocket made by privately owned firm SpaceX.

It marks the increasing collaboration between Nasa and private firms such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin to carry out its space operations.

The astronauts first undocked from the orbital station late on Saturday to begin their 21-hour trip home aboard Crew Dragon 'Endeavor'.

Mission control said just after splashdown: “On behalf of the SpaceX and Nasa teams, welcome back to Planet Earth. Thanks for flying SpaceX.”


The last time astronauts made an ocean landing was on July 1975 at the end of a joint US-Soviet Union Apollo-Soyuz mission. Nasa’s Space Shuttle, which was retired in 2011, landed on runways like a commercial aeroplane.

Other modern crewed vehicles, including Russia’s Soyuz and China’s Shenzhou, are designed to land on the ground.

Nasa admitted that it needed to do a better job in future of warding off citizens from coming too close to landing sites, after a group of privately owned boats came rushing towards the spacecraft following re-entry.

The boats appeared to sail close to SpaceX’s astronaut carrier, the Crew Dragon, as recovery crews raced to get to the spacecraft.

Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine said the presence of these private boats “was not what we were anticipating”.

Speaking at a news conference after the splashdown, he said: “Of course, we wanted to make sure there was a clearing for them to land – the Coast Guard did an excellent job of ensuring that. After they landed, the boats just came in. We need to do a better job next time for sure.

“What is not common is having passers-by approach the vehicle close range with nitrogen tetroxide in the atmosphere, that’s not something that is good.”

Nasa officials have said Crew Dragon, a pod with seven astronaut seats, was in a “very healthy” condition while docked at the space station, where astronauts conducted tests and monitored how the spacecraft performs in space.

“Congratulations SpaceX & NASA on completing first crewed Dragon flight!!,” Musk wrote on Twitter after the splash-down.

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