NASA astronauts cap historic ‘odyssey’ aboard SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft is seen as it lands with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, U.S., August 2, 2020. NASA/Bill Ingalls/Handout via REUTERS

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

U.S. astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who flew to the International Space Station in SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon, splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday after a two-month voyage that was NASA’s first crewed mission from home soil in nine years. 

Behnken and Hurley, tallying 64 days in space, undocked from the station on Saturday and returned home to land their capsule in calm waters off Florida’s Pensacola coast on schedule at 2:48 p.m. ET following a 21-hour overnight journey aboard Crew Dragon “Endeavor.”

“This has been quite an odyssey,” Hurley told senior NASA and SpaceX officials at a homecoming ceremony at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. “To be where we are now, the first crewed flight of Dragon, is just unbelievable.”

The successful splash-down, the first of its kind by NASA in 45 years, was a final test of whether SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk’s spacecraft can transport astronauts to and from orbit — a feat no private company has accomplished before.

“This day heralds a new age of space exploration,” Musk said. “I’m not very religious, but I prayed for this one.”

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said the successful mission marked “a new era of human spaceflight where NASA is no longer the purchaser, owner and operator of all the hardware” but one of many future customers of space travel.

“Today we really made history,” Bridenstine told an earlier press conference.

Despite Coast Guard restrictions and safety risks, spectators in private boats surrounded the splash-down site dozens of miles from shore as SpaceX and NASA recovery teams used a crane to hoist the spacecraft out of the water and onto a boat.

The crew’s retrieval from Crew Dragon was delayed slightly as the teams worked to flush its fuel tanks after sensing traces of nitrogen tetroxide fumes outside the capsule, a toxic gas from one the spacecraft’s flammable fuels.