After completing a two-month long stay at the ISS, NASA Astronauts are set to make a splashdown today.
The spacecraft has performed in near-flawless fashion throughout its first piloted mission and a successful landing is the last major hurdle before NASA can certify the spacecraft for operational crew rotation missions to and from the space station.
Sunday's re-entry marked the first splashdown of a USA space capsule carrying astronauts since the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the American half of which was launched from Kennedy Space Center in 1975.
The SpaceX crew launched on a Falcon 9 rocket on May 30 for a trip to the International Space Station.
The mission marked the first time Nasa launched humans from United States soil since its shuttle program retired in 2011.
Spacecraft engineers, recovery experts and medical professionals on the SpaceX recovery ship, called Go Navigator, are helping the astronauts get out of the capsule as they begin readjusting to gravity.
NASA, aiming to galvanize a commercial space marketplace, awarded almost $8 billion to SpaceX and Boeing Co collectively in 2014 to develop duelling space capsules, experimenting with a contract model that allows the space agency to buy astronaut seats from the two companies.
They will begin an engine burn to break out of orbit Sunday afternoon, with a splashdown near Florida planned for less than an hour later at 2.42pm.
SpaceX'sCrew Dragon capsule is hoisted onto its recovery ship with the astronauts inside, while a gaggle of private vessels gawk around the perimeter of the landing zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
The vehicle will undergo temperatures of as much as 1,927 deg C during re-entry, according to Nasa. Although SpaceX previously released a Crew Dragon on an unmanned demo mission, Hurley and Behnken's mission is still considered a test.
NASA and SpaceX have picked out seven different landing sites along the east and west coasts of Florida, ranging from approximately 22 nautical miles from shore to 175.
Bob and Doug's mission was originally to last around a week but was extended to over 60 days in order to bolster activity aboard the Station during a period of low crew operations which started in April 2020 with the undocking of Soyuz MS-13 and the end of Expedition 61. It arrived at the orbital space laboratory the following day.
"This is the next era in human spaceflight where NASA gets to be the customer", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said from Johnson Space Center in Houston shortly before the astronauts' return.
The flag - which also flew on the first shuttle flight in 1981 - became a prize for the company that launched astronauts first. SpaceX easily beat Boeing, which isn't expected to launch its first crew until next year and will land in the U.S. Southwest.