US astronauts make historic landing
Two American astronauts have splashed down, as the first commercial crewed mission to the International Space Station returned to Earth.
The SpaceX Dragon Capsule carrying Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken came down in the Gulf of Mexico just south of Pensacola on Florida’s Gulf coast.
A recovery vessel moved in to pick up the vehicle and extricate the men.
The touchdown marks the first crewed US water landing since the final outing of an Apollo command module 45 years ago.
Hurley’s and Behnken’s capsule touched the water at about 14:48 EDT.
Private boats which came close to the Dragon were asked to leave amid concern over hazardous chemicals on the capsule.
Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine said the presence of the boats “was not what we were anticipating”.
“What is not common is having passersby approach the vehicle close range with nitrogen tetroxide in the atmosphere, that’s not something that is good,” he said. “And we need to make sure that we’re warning people not to get close to the spacecraft in the future.”
Photos of the boats were shared on social media.
“It’s truly our honour and privilege,” said Hurley as the astronauts arrived home.
“On behalf of the SpaceX and Nasa teams, welcome back to Planet Earth. Thanks for flying SpaceX,” SpaceX mission control responded.
President Donald Trump – who attended the capsule’s launch two months ago – hailed its safe return.
“Thank you to all!” he tweeted. “Great to have NASA Astronauts return to Earth after very successful two month mission.”
The successful end to the crew’s mission initiates a new era for the American space agency.
All its human transport needs just above the Earth will in future be purchased from private companies, such as SpaceX.
The government agency says contracting out to service providers in this way will save it billions of dollars that can be diverted to getting astronauts to the Moon, as part of its Artemis programme, and afterwards to Mars.
The Dragon capsule launched to the space station at the end of May on a Falcon 9 rocket, also supplied by SpaceX. (BBC)