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Astronauts Splashdown in Gulf

The first ever splashdown of astronauts in the Gulf of Mexico to finish the DM-2 mission

Remember those two astronauts who lifted off May 30th from Cape Canaveral? well, they are back! Perhaps you don't watch the news and this is the first you're hearing about the historic event. Yesterday August 2nd 2020 at 2:38 PM est, two astronauts landed in the Gulf of Mexico to end the two month demonstration mission for SpaceX in the Commercial Crew Program for NASA. Commander Doug Hurley, and Bob Behnken concluded their stay at the International Space Station August 1st, departing in the Crew Dragon capsule designed by SpaceX to continue services ferrying astronauts to and from orbit. Nineteen hours after leaving their fellow astronaut, and two cosmonauts the duo splashed down on the coast of Florida near Pensacola.

Up close view of the Crew Dragon capsule on May 27th, just days before the launch.

NASA has placed strict requirements for companies competing in the Commercial Crew Program, and it has taken many years for several companies to come as far as they have to pass the requirements needed to launch astronauts to space for NASA. with that in mind it is important where astronauts can be brought back to earth, a few factors being close to airports, and medical facilities. With this criteria SpaceX has seven different locations along both coasts of Florida that will work for crew recovery. With hurricane Isaias steaming up the East coast shoreline the company chose the most ideal location to keep on their projected timeline. SpaceX has made a name for itself when it comes to the ability to reuse components of their spaceships, cutting down on overall cost, and turn around time to bring more payloads to space more efficiently. Only about eight minutes after liftoff the first stage booster which took the astronauts to orbit was landed successfully on a drone ship and brought back to port, refurbished, and flown again only fifty-one days later. The Dragon capsule itself is slated to be re-flown in September when the Crew-1 mission launches four astronauts to the ISS (International Space Station). Work began immediately on the capsule aptly named by the first to fly her "Endeavour" to bring her back to flight ready status as soon as the pair were safely out, and on board the vessel GO Navigator headed back to NAS Pensacola.

With all the re-using SpaceX has going on, they need a fleet of vessels to keep operations underway. This includes two ships that catch fairing halves after the payload is deployed, two drone ships where the boosters can be landed at sea, and three support vessels, two of which are used for capsule recovery in the ocean. GO Navigator is one of those two, and crews have spent countless hours rehearsing over the last year or so to be prepared for yesterdays event. Besides some wayward private boaters, all things went smooth in the recovery process with "Endeavour" being secured on deck around forty minutes after it the water.

One of the two recovery ships in Port Canaveral with the practice Dragon on deck

During reentry into the Earths atmosphere the temperature outside the space craft rose above 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, scorching the side of the capsule as the astronauts rode comfortable inside with a nitrox cooled mixture flowing through the craft, and inside their suits as well. As with all reentries there is a plasma sheath enshrouded around the capsule for several minutes causing a communications black out. This black out was expected to last up to six minutes, myself along with millions of others i'm sure were holding their breaths waiting for communications to start up again. When communications resumed the astronauts reported all was well.

Endeavour seen on the back of GO Navigator late in the evening sailing into NAS Pensacola

Once out of the Dragonship the astronauts were given an examination by the flight surgeon before departing the vessel via helicopter to NAS Pensacola. They nearest Naval Air Station where they then boarded a NASA Gulf stream Jet to Houston for the congratulations ceremony after a many years in the making success. In a touching moment Dough Hurley had this to say, "For anyone who’s touched Endeavour, you should take a moment to cherish this day given everything that’s happened this year."

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