In this frame grab from NASA TV, the SpaceX Dragon capsule splashes down August 2, 2020, in the Gulf of Mexico.
NASA now hopes to buy spaceflight and other services from private companies like SpaceX in order to help create an economy in orbit around the Earth, where the space agency can be a buyer of services instead of a provider.
The capsule will now be transported back to SpaceX's Dragon lair at Cape Canaveral where it will undergo intense scrutiny as crews prepare it for its next flight.
Following the successful launch of Crew Dragon in late May, NASA announced that SpaceX would be able to reuse both its Falcon 9 first stage boosters as well as the Dragon capsules on future astronauts' missions, and not require new hardware each time.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon was cleared for flight in May, and Behnken and Hurley took off aboard their spacecraft, nicknamed Dragon Endeavour, as millions watched. "It was an honor to witness history as @NASA and @SpaceX launched American astronauts on an American rocket from American soil to the @Space_Station in May".
Aside from being a milestone in the growth of commercial spaceflight, it's also the first return of astronauts to Earth aboard an American spacecraft since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, as well as the first manned splashdown since the end of the Apollo/Soyuz Test Project on July 25, 1975, when Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand, and Donald "Deke" Slayton landed off the coast of Hawaii in an Apollo Command Module.
NASA confirmed that the Crew Dragon with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley has exited the "approach ellipsoid" around the ISS and is on a safe trajectory back to earth.
As soon as the capsule hit the water, the recovery crews went to work on retrieving the parachutes, and saving the capsule so they can hoist it out of the water and extract the crew.
Crew members for that mission are to be NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, along with Soichi Noguchi from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
Until Hurley and Behnken rocketed into orbit, Nasa astronauts relied on Russian rockets. "On behalf of a grateful Nation, thank you!" SpaceX already had experience hauling cargo to the space station, bringing those capsules back to a Pacific splashdown. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk was there, watching the screens and speaking from time to time with SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.
Addressing a socially distanced welcome ceremony in a hangar, Behnken, a veteran of the Space Shuttle program, praised the SpaceX team behind the successful mission. "But the most important part is bringing us home". Hurley and Behnken's capsule will be refurbished for another flight next spring. Minutes after splashdown, Musk tweeted a flag emoji followed by "returned". "Hurry home so we can go get my dog".