Astronauts splash down aboard SpaceX capsule off Florida

Two US astronauts hit the water safely aboard a Dragon capsule off Florida, marking NASA's first splashdown la

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Two US astronauts hit the water safely aboard a Dragon capsule off Florida, marking NASA's first splashdown landing in decades. The capsule was developed by private firm SpaceX, owned by tech billionaire Elon Musk.

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley landed safely aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday after a two-month stay at the International Space Station.

"Welcome back to planet Earth, thanks for flying SpaceX," mission control said, as the pair made the first water landing in a US spacecraft since 1975.

Hurley reported they were "all good" after hitting the water.

Their trip marks the first manned NASA launch from US territory since the space shuttle program was retired. Hurley piloted the last shuttle mission in 2011.

"Recovery team is GO and the weather is looking good," NASA tweeted as over 40 staff, including doctors and nurses, were poised to retrieve the astronauts. They later showed the capsule being hoisted up from the water and placed aboard a recovery vessel.

Both the launch and the return journey were fully automated. The capsule had to slow down from the orbital speed of some 28,000 kilometers (17,400 miles) per hour, to 560 kilometers per hour while going through the atmosphere and finally get to 24 kilometers per hour at the impact. The craft deployed four parachutes for the final stage of the trip.

SpaceX Dragon as seen from space (Imago Images/NASA)

The module had to withstand the heat of over 1,900 degrees Celsius (3,500 Fahrenheit)

Talking to DW, astrobiologist and former NASA employee Keith Cowing described it as a "textbook landing."

"It was flawless," he said.

He noted that the commercially developed module would help to open up space travel.

"I think when you see that there are more ways to get more people up there, that just means the result is more people will be up there for reasons other than doing science," he said.

Start of a new era

NASA's shuttle has been replaced by a capsule developed by the private company SpaceX. Boeing is developing a rival vehicle. NASA awarded billions to the airplane maker and the tech company owned by entrepreneur Elon Musk in 2014 for the purpose of creating rival spacecraft, but Boeing's candidate would likely only be ready next year.

For most of the past decade, NASA has relied on the Russian space program to ferry astronauts into space.
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