President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama hailed SpaceX's first splashdown of NASA astronauts on Sunday (Aug. 2), a landmark feat that capped the first orbital space mission from the U.S. in nearly a decade.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon Endeavour successfully splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, returning astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to Earth after two months in orbit. Their mission, the Demo-2 test flight, marked the first orbital flight of astronauts from America since 2011, when NASA's last space shuttle mission touched down. It was also the first water landing for NASA since the joint U.S.-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.
Great to have NASA Astronauts return to Earth after very successful two month mission. Thank you to all!August 2, 2020
"Great to have NASA astronauts return to Earth after very successful two-month mission. Thank you to all!" Trump wrote on Twitter after the splashdown. "Astronauts complete first splashdown in 45 years. Very exciting!" he added in a separate post.
Trump was on hand at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30 when SpaceX launched Behnken and Hurley into orbit. The astronauts, he said at the time, showed "pure American genius and courage."
"They joined the ranks of just seven prior American astronauts who have made the perilous maiden voyage to test a new class of spacecraft," Trump said after the launch. Trump has called on NASA to return American astronauts to the moon by 2024, which the agency is pursuing as part of its Artemis program.
SpaceX's Demo-2 test flight marked the first crewed flight of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which has separately tapped SpaceX and Boeing to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX's $2.6 billion contract calls for at least six crewed flights using its Crew Dragon capsules and Falcon 9 rocket.
Boeing's deal is worth $4.6 billion for flights on its Starliner capsule and Atlas V rockets. The company plans a second uncrewed test flight of Starliner after its mission failed to reach the space station in December.
NASA's Commercial Crew Program began in 2010 during the Obama administration, so it was unsurprising to see the former U.S. president weigh in on SpaceX's splashdown Sunday.
"Welcome home, @AstroBehnken and @AstroDoug," Obama wrote on Twitter Sunday. "We launched the Commercial Crew program to strengthen our U.S. space program and it's been great to see its success."
Welcome home, @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug! We launched the Commercial Crew program to strengthen our U.S. space program and it's been great to see its success. This historic NASA-SpaceX mission is a symbol of what American ingenuity and inventiveness can achieve. pic.twitter.com/vvOSopBUdPAugust 2, 2020
Obama shared a photo of him meeting the astronauts at the White House. Behnken and Hurley's selection to fly SpaceX's Demo-2 mission was announced exactly two years ago today.
"This historic NASA-SpaceX mission is a symbol of what American ingenuity and inventiveness can achieve," Obama added Sunday.
SpaceX and NASA will now review every aspect of the Demo-2 test flight as they prepare to begin regular crewed flights to the station on Crew Dragon.
The first of those missions, Crew-1, will launch four astronauts to the station in late September. Its successor, Crew-2, will launch another four astronauts in 2021. That Crew-2 mission will use the same Crew Dragon Endeavour capsule that splashed down on Sunday.
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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.