Dragon crew completes historic mission
History was made Sunday with the first splashdown by astronauts since the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission.
The successful landing and recovery of the Dragon capsule made history in a second way. It marks the completion of a mission by the first manned commercial spacecraft bringing astronauts to and from the International
Crew Dragon “Endeavour” splashed down Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Fla., at 2:48 p.m. Eastern time (11:48 a.m. Pacific).
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard, was hoisted Sunday morning onto the deck of the company’s “GO Navigator” recovery vessel. There was a brief delay in opening the hatch because of fumes given off by the propellant, but Mr. Behnken and Mr. Hurley emerged safely from the capsule after two months on the space station.
SpaceX is the company led by CEO Elon Musk, who founded Tesla.
The Dragon mission demonstrated SpaceX’s ability to complete several
feats: launch with a crew from Cape Canaveral, land the reusable Falcon 9 rocket on a barge, dock with the International Space Station and, on Sunday, complete the mission with the historic splashdown.
The splashdown was the first one in decades. American space shuttles landed on runways at Cape Canaveral and Edwards Air Force Base near Lancaster. Russia’s Soyuz capsules, which land in the deserts of Kazakhstan, have served as the taxi for American astronauts to and from the International Space Station since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.
As the newest chapter in space history, SpaceX is the realization of a longtime sci-fi dream. Acclaimed novelist Robert Heinlein (1907-88) was among those who predicted the private sector’s role in space travel in his books. With Sunday’s splashdown, some aspects of Mr. Heinlein’s science fiction became reality.
NASA hired two companies — SpaceX and Boeing — to transport astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceX was the first to be ready to take astronauts there, and the company launched Mr. Behnken and Mr. Hurley in May from Cape Canaveral.
And the SpaceX story has a Santa Barbara County connection. Falcon 9 was tested during unmanned launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base and landings on a barge in the Pacific Ocean. The first flight from Vandenberg was in 2013.
More about the U.S. space program and its connections with Santa Barbara County, past and future, will appear later this week in the News-Press.