CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — On Saturday night, the first astronauts sent by the SpaceX corporation of Elon Musk entered the International Space Station for the last and most critical aspect of their test flight: returning to Earth for a dramatic splashdown.
NASA's Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken said goodbye to the three people left behind when their
SpaceX Dragon spacecraft undocked and prepared for a rapid drop into the Gulf of Mexico Sunday afternoon.
Despite the surge of Tropical Storm Isaias toward Florida's Atlantic shore, NASA said
the weather looked favorably off Pensacola 's coast on the state's extreme opposite side.
It would become the first astronaut splashdown in 45 years. The last time came during the 1975 joint US-Soviet project known as Apollo-Soyuz.
The astronauts' homecoming would conclude a two-month project that ended a lengthy crisis in the U.S., which has dependent on Russian rockets since the end of the shuttle period to transport astronauts to the space station.
SpaceX was the first commercial corporation to carry men into space when
it deployed Hurley and Behnken from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on May 30. Now SpaceX is just about to become the first company to bring people back from orbit.
"The most complicated thing was having us airborne, but the most critical aspect is taking us down," Behnken said some hours before strapping onto the Dragon.
A good splashdown, Behnken said, would offer "full circle" capabilities for the U.S. crew to deploy.
Space station commander Chris Cassidy, who will remain on board with two Russians until October, presented Hurley with the small U.S. flag left behind by the previous astronauts to launch from U.S. soil to the space station at a farewell ceremony earlier in the day. In July 2011, Hurley was thepilot for that final shuttle mission.
The flag — which also flew in 1981 on the first shuttle flight — was a reward for the organization which first launched astronauts.
SpaceX defeated Boeing comfortably, who is not scheduled to fly its first crew until next year and land in the USA. Southeast. After this, the flag has one more flight: to the moon in the next few years on NASA's Artemis program.
"We 're a little sorry to see them go," Cassidy said, "but really enthusiastic
about what having this opportunity" in commercial crew capsules brings to our international space program. The next mission of the SpaceX team is planned for the end of September.