Liftoff to splashdown: SpaceX’s historic Crew Dragon mission in pictures

SpaceX’s trailblazing Demo-2 mission wrapped up on Sunday, August 2 when the Crew Dragon capsule carrying two NASA astronauts splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico after a two-month stay at the International Space Station (ISS).

The mission was special for many reasons. It was the first astronaut launch and landing in U.S. territory since the Space Shuttle program ended 2011, and it was the first time for NASA to use a commercially built and operated American crew spacecraft. It was also the first time for SpaceX to put astronauts inside its Crew Dragon capsule, taking the company another step toward its dream of building a fully reusable space transportation system for missions to the moon, Mars, and beyond. And it was also the first NASA splashdown since 1975.

Here, we’ve used a collection of photos from the historic mission to tell its story.

Ready for launch: The Crew Dragon (below) atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on May 26, 2020. The launch was originally scheduled to take place on May 27, but unsettled weather pushed it to May 30.

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The astronauts: Bob Behnken (left) and Doug Hurley at the Launch and Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center ahead of SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission.

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Suited and booted, Bob (left) and Doug settle into their seats inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

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Liftoff: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 heads skyward with Bob and Doug aboard.

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See ya later: Doug’s wife, retired NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, and son watch the rocket climb into the sky at the start of its journey to the space station.

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High-speed travel: Two minutes after liftoff and the rocket is traveling at 2,300 mph (3,700 kmh).

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Perfect landing: Nine minutes in, the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster returns to Earth, making a perfect landing on a SpaceX drone ship. Here it is heading back to land ahead of its next flight (it’ll need a bit of a clean first).

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Arrival: The Crew Dragon makes a careful approach to the space station as it prepares to dock.

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Docked: The Crew Dragon docks with the International Space Station. It’s actually the spacecraft’s second visit to the orbiting outpost — the first time was a crewless test run in 2019.

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Come on in: Current ISS crew members Chris Cassidy, Anatoly Ivanishin, and Ivan Vagner welcome Bob aboard the space station.

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Here’s the other fella: Hurley follows close behind.

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Group photo: The crew of the space station’s Expedition 63. From top left: Anatoly, Chris, Ivan, Bob, and Doug.

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Long way down: The very special view enjoyed by Bob and Doug, and the rest of the crew.

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Spacewalk: Bob (left) and Chris embarked on four so-called “extravehicular activities” during Expedition 63. One of the outings marked the 300th spacewalk involving American astronauts.

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Space work: Bob, Doug, and Chris work on setting up the Robotic Tool Stowage (RiTS) unit that arrived at the station in 2019. The apparatus will serve as a protective storage unit for critical robotic tools.

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Interviews: Besides performing maintenance work, conducting science research, and testing the Crew Dragon, Bob and Doug also took part in numerous events with the media and students back on Earth.

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Aerial shots: Doug spent some of his time posting stunning photos of Earth as part of the Crew Earth Observations study. This one shows the Bahamas, which the astronaut described as “absolutely one of the most beautiful sights on Earth from space.”

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Swirling over Spain: Bob took this one showing a cloud formation as it spirals in the Balearic Sea between Valencia, Spain, and the Spanish island of Ibiza.

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Expandable room: Bob explores the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which was attached to the station’s Tranquility module in 2016. BEAM started as a technology demonstration to test an experimental expandable capsule inflated to create an area large enough for an astronaut to stay.

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Happy 50th: Bob celebrated his half century while on the space station, with someone knocking together a few cakes apparently designed to ensure he wouldn’t forget his age.

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Return journey: After 64 days in space, it’s time to return to terra firma. Here we see Bob and Doug back inside the Crew Dragon as they prepare to leave the space station on August 1, 2020.

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Splashdown: The following day, the Crew Dragon comes down in the Gulf of Mexico. The image shows a recovery crew, dispatched from the larger GO Voyager recovery ship, approaching the capsule.

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Curious folks: Private boats approach the Crew Dragon as it bobs up and down in the sea with Bob and Doug still inside.

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Dry dock: After the recovery crew check Bob and Doug are OK, the capsule is hauled onto the GO Voyager ship, with the astronauts still inside.

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Thumbs-up: The hatch is opened, with Bob and Doug both offering a smile for the camera. A short while later, the pair were flown to the mainland for health checks.

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Back to base: Meanwhile, the Crew Dragon is returned to SpaceX’s “Dragon Lair” in Florida for inspection and maintenance. If everything is in order, the same capsule will fly four more astronauts in another mission to the ISS next month.

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Elon’s glee: Five hours after splashdown, a small event is held to welcome Bob and Doug back home. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk — the billionaire entrepreneur who founded SpaceX 18 years ago with the grand aim of creating a reusable space transportation system — said the successful Demo-2 mission marked “a new age of space exploration,” adding, “We’re going to go to the moon, we’re going to have a base on the moon, we’re going to send people to Mars, and make life multiplanetary.” NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said: “You just can’t put into words how important this [mission] was for our country to have access to space again from our own soil.”

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And finally: Bob and Doug offer a few words on the historic mission before heading off for a well-earned rest. “To be where we are now with the first crewed flight of Dragon is just unbelievable,” Doug said. Acknowledging SpaceX and NASA’s achievement, Bob commented, “We’re both super-proud to have been just a small part of the team that accomplished bringing those space flights back to the Florida coast and bringing that capability back to America.”

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