SpaceX astronauts to make first splashdown return to Earth in 45 years

Two NASA astronauts are on the last leg of their journey home as they prepare to make the first splashdown return to Earth in 45 years.

Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley left the International Space Station after two months on the orbiting laboratory. The pair are expected to land in the ocean off the coast of Florida at around 7.48pm UK time on Sunday.

Mr Behnken and Mr Hurley made history on May 30 when they became the first people to launch into low-Earth orbit on a commercial spacecraft, built by SpaceX.

Their mission, named Demo-2, also marked the first time Nasa had launched astronauts from US soil in nine years.

SpaceX’s astronaut carrier, the Crew Dragon, is expected to land in the water off Pensacola, western Florida.

The US space agency said this location is far away from Hurricane Isaias, which is expected to hit the eastern part of the state.

The last time astronauts made an ocean landing was on July 1975 during an Apollo mission.

Since then, they have always landed on terra firma, using Nasa’s Space Shuttle or the Russian space agency’s Soyuz capsules.

If all goes to plan, the splashdown will usher in a new era for Nasa, which will have at least one commercial spacecraft ready to launch astronauts into space from US soil.

The splashdown is the final step in the mission designed to test SpaceX’s human spaceflight system – including launch, docking, splashdown and recovery operations.

In a post-launch conference back in May, Elon Musk – the founder of SpaceX – said he was not keen to “declare victory yet”, emphasising that the “return can be more dangerous than the ascent”.

Mr Musk said at the time: “We need to bring them home safely and make sure that we are doing everything we can to minimise that risk of re-entry.”

The Crew Dragon performed manoeuvres to lower the capsule’s orbit and get it closer to the splashdown zone.

SpaceX astronauts to make first splashdown return to Earth in 45 years

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