SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Sunday celebrated the safe return of NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken aboard the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. which completed its first-ever astronaut mission. The Demo-2 mission was also the first to launch and land in U.S. territory since 2011, and the first splashdown since 1975.
Just five hours after coming down in the Gulf of Mexico after a two-month stay on the International Space Station, Hurley and Behnken, together with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Musk, appeared at a special event at Ellington Field in Houston.
Clearly relieved to see the safe return of the two astronauts in what was a hitch-free mission, a pumped Musk quipped, “I’m not very religious but I prayed for this one.”
The billionaire entrepreneur who founded SpaceX 18 years ago with the lofty goal of creating a reusable space transportation system, said the successful Demo-2 mission heralds “a new age of space exploration,” adding excitedly: “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.”
With renewed vigor for these far more ambitious missions using more powerful SpaceX rockets, Musk described Sunday’s achievement as “something that the whole world can take some pleasure in, and can really look at this as an achievement of humanity.”
Appearing so soon after splashdown, astronauts Hurley and Behnken looked understandably tired, though both appeared well overall. Still feeling a little wobbly on their legs after spending nine weeks in microgravity conditions aboard the space station, the pair chose to stay seated during their brief appearance.
“To be where we are now with the first crewed flight of Dragon is just unbelievable,” Hurley said, adding that he was looking forward to sharing details of the mission with the public in the coming weeks and months.
Acknowledging SpaceX and NASA’s achievement in conducting the first launch and landing in U.S. territory since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, Behnken said: “There’s something special about having that capability to launch and bring your own astronauts home. We went through a lot of years without that capability, and I think 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.”
Bridenstine added: “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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