Bob Behnken, KE5GGX, was one of two NASA astronauts who made spaceflight history over the weekend. Behnken and Doug Hurley were the first astronauts since the 1970s to make a water landing, after their Crew Dragon capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday. On May 30, the pair made history as the first live crew to be launched into space in a commercial vehicle, for a stay on the International Space Station (ISS), marking the return of human spaceflight to US soil for the first time in nearly a decade.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle carried the crew into orbit from Cape Canaveral. The so-called “Demo-2” was the last major test for SpaceX’s human spaceflight system, to be certified by NASA for operational crew missions to and from the ISS. Four huge parachutes carried the Crew Dragon capsule to a safe splashdown near Pensacola, Florida, on Sunday, August 1.
“On behalf of the SpaceX and NASA teams, welcome back to planet Earth,” SpaceX Engineer Michael Heiman radioed to the crew after their landing. “And thanks for flying SpaceX.”
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine proclaimed that the US was entering a new era of human spaceflight, noting that NASA was no longer the only option for US space travel. “We are going to be a customer,” he said. NASA has contracted with two companies — SpaceX and Boeing — to ferry astronaut crews to and from the ISS.
While part of the space station crew for 2 months, Behnken and Astronaut Chris Cassidy, KF5KDR, the sole American on board when their Endeavour capsule docked, carried out four spacewalks to install new batteries on the ISS.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle was designed for short-term missions, and Behnken and Hurley’s mission had only been expected to last a week. As a result, Behnken did not receive Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) training on the radio gear in the Russian sector. NASA subsequently decided to monitor the mission and make a decision on how long the Crew Dragon would stay. Cassidy fielded all ARISS school contacts.