The Crew Dragon spaceship is scheduled to return to Earth Sunday afternoon with a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.
The two-person craft, built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX Corporation, will end a two-month voyage which saw it make history as the first private spaceship to carry a crew into space.
It also made history as being the first time a NASA crew lifted off from US soil after the end of the Space Shuttle program under former President Obama.
Crew Dragon “Endeavor” decoupled from the orbital station at 7:35 p.m. ET Saturday evening carrying astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley ahead of a Sunday afternoon splashdown off the coast of Pensacola, Florida—the first procedure of its kind in a privately built space capsule.
“It’s been a great two months, and we appreciate all you’ve done as a crew to help us prove out Dragon on its maiden flight,” Hurley told the remaining station crew member Chris Cassidy, as Crew Dragon autonomously eased away from its docking port to begin the 21-hour journey home.
NASA and SpaceX—monitoring the crew’s return from Houston, Texas and SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California—ruled out splashdown options in the Atlantic earlier this week due to Tropical Storm Isaias, now a tropical storm churning alongside Florida’s east coast.
Upon a successful splashdown at 2:48 p.m. ET (1:48 Central) Sunday, the spacecraft will have completed its final key test to prove it can transport astronauts to and from space—a task SpaceX has accomplished dozens of times with its cargo-only capsule but never before with humans aboard.
“The hardest part was getting us launched, but the most important part is bringing us home,” Behnken said during a farewell ceremony early on Saturday aboard the space station.
Billionaire entrepreneur and Trump supporter Elon Musk’s SpaceX became the first private company to send humans to orbit on May 31 with the launch of Behnken and Hurley.
The mission marked the first time NASA launched humans from U.S. soil since its shuttle program retired in 2011. Since then the United States has relied on Russia’s space program to launch its astronauts to the space station.
NASA, aiming to galvanize a commercial space marketplace, awarded nearly $8 billion to SpaceX and Boeing Co collectively in 2014 to develop dueling space capsules, experimenting with a contract model that allows the space agency to buy astronaut seats from the two companies.
Musk has been a proponent of opening up the economy saying that the response of liberal local and state governments cannot be allowed to permanently destroy the economy and livelihoods of 100 million Americans, including those of his employees.
In June he clashed with California Governor Gavin Newsom over California’s business restrictions.
The feud has led Musk to announce this month that he is moving his 5.3 million square foot Tesla plant in Freemont, Calif. to Texas.
In July Musk’s net worth surged past that of Warren Buffett, making Musk the fifth richest person in the world.