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Historic SpaceX mission ends in textbook splashdown

It has been decades since the world watched a US space capsule touch down in the waters off the coast of Florida — the first in 45 years, in fact.

Thankfully, four big chutes opened as planned and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft — carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley — splashed down into the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, CNN reported.

More importantly, it marked a safe end to an historic two-month mission, paving the way for the United States to once again become a world leader in human spaceflight.

The Crew Dragon vehicle fired up its engines and safely plunged back through the Earth’s thick atmosphere on Sunday afternoon for its target landing off the coast of Florida. Mission control dispatched a humorous welcome to the astronauts: “Thank you for flying SpaceX.”

According to CTV News, the spacecraft went from a screaming orbital speed of 17,500 mph (28,000 kph) to 350 mph (560 kph) during atmospheric reentry, and finally to 15 mph (24 kph) at splashdown.

Peak heating during descent was 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,900 degrees Celsius). The anticipated top G forces felt by the crew: four to five times the force of Earth’s gravity.

Following the recovery, the astronauts will board a NASA plane that will shuttle them to Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA’s official home base for astronauts, CNN reported.

The journey was made more dramatic by a two-day standoff with mother nature: Tropical Storm Isaias was barreling toward the east coast. But waters in the Gulf of Mexico remained calm enough for the astronauts’ capsule to splash down near Pensacola.

A giant recovery ship, GO Navigator, met the Crew Dragon spacecraft and successfully hauled it out of the water. Medics are on site for any emergencies, and Hurley and Behnken will be whisked by helicopter to the Pensacola Naval Air Station, CNN reported.

To keep the returning astronauts safe in the pandemic, the recovery crew quarantined for two weeks and were tested for the coronavirus, CTV News reported.

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