NASA and SpaceX have successfully brought astronauts back from the International Space Station with the first ocean landing in 45 years.
The historic mission began in May when NASA completed the first space launch from US soil for almost a decade, thanks to SpaceX‘s Falcon 9 rocket.
Astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken safely returned to Earth, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico early on Sunday evening.
The recovery was marred by a number of private boats which approached the splashdown zone, one of which was flying a Trump flag.
President Trump tweeted on Sunday: “Great to have NASA Astronauts return to Earth after very successful two month mission. Thank you to all!”
He had flown down to Florida to observe the launch back in May, making him the first president to watch a NASA lift-off since Bill Clinton.
The launch, named Demo-2, was the first manned mission for Elon Musk‘s spaceflight company SpaceX – and the first private involvement in taking astronauts to the ISS.
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NASA will now fully certify the company to conduct manned launches in the future.
The next of these will feature Behnken’s wife, Megan McArthur – an oceanographer and NASA astronaut who has previously flown one space shuttle mission.
A private boat with a Trump flag passed by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour as recovery teams attempt to secure the spacecraft, in what appears to be a serious violation of the splashdown zone’s safety area. pic.twitter.com/kwbpAlYM9t
— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) August 2, 2020
Meet Crew 2. 🚀
🇺🇸 NASA’s Megan McArthur and @astro_kimbrough
🇫🇷 @Thom_astro of @ESA
🇯🇵 @Aki_Hoshide of @JAXA_en
will fly on @SpaceX Crew Dragon’s 2nd operational mission to the @Space_Station next spring!
Learn more about the mission and crew: https://t.co/IaM1qndXhJpic.twitter.com/jJQMqH9bdo
— Johnson Space Center (@NASA_Johnson) July 28, 2020
America hasn’t had the ability to launch astronauts from its own soil since 8 July 2011, when the Space Shuttle programme was retired.
NASA had been relying on Soyuz spacecraft, operated by Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, to ferry its astronauts to the ISS.
Russian space launches aren’t cheap – for astronauts travelling to the ISS using Soyuz rockets from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, it costs up to $86m (£70m) per seat.
NASA launched its Commercial Crew Program in 2010, to find private sector partners who could launch astronauts safely to the ISS, although funding issues delayed the initial launches.
Behnken and Hurley: Who are the astronauts with astronaut wives?
Now SpaceX is offering to return this capability to American soil, charging just $55m (£45m) per seat.
Boeing is also bidding to contribute, although its seat costs have varied – according to different estimates between $70m (£57m) and $90m (£74m) – potentially making it more expensive than a Soyuz launch.
Boeing’s test flight is scheduled for 20 December.