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NASA 'Dads' Make Successful SpaceX Splashdown

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

Two NASA astronauts are back on Earth after spending nearly two months on the International Space Station. They splash down today in the Gulf of Mexico in SpaceX's Dragon capsule, the first commercially designed, built and launched spacecraft to carry NASA astronauts. From member station WMFE, Brendan Byrne reports.

BRENDAN BYRNE, BYLINE: NASA's Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley boarded the Dragon spacecraft yesterday and undocked from the station. It takes about 19 hours to get from the ISS back to Earth, and most of the flying is done by the spacecraft's onboard computers, which gave Behnken and Hurley time to sleep overnight before today's return.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JACK: Good morning, Dragon Endeavour. I'm happy you went into space, but I'm even happier that you're coming back home.

THEO: Rise and shine, daddy. We love you. We can't wait to see you. Wake up, wake up.

BYRNE: Behnken and Hurley are affectionately called the SpaceX dads as a way to focus on crew safety and planning that both SpaceX and NASA applied to this mission. Technically, this is a test flight of the spacecraft and its ability to carry astronauts. It's part of NASA's $6 billion commercial crew program relying on private companies to ferry astronauts to the station ending a nearly decade-long reliance on the Russian space agency for rides to the ISS.

Since launching from Kennedy Space Center in May, the Dragon capsule named Endeavour has traveled more than 27 million miles. During reentry, the vehicle reached temperatures of up to 3,500 degrees and decelerated for more than 17,000 miles per hour in orbit to just 15 as a canopy of parachutes helped the capsule gently splash down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: On behalf of the SpaceX and NASA teams, welcome back to planet Earth, and thanks for flying SpaceX.

BYRNE: The capsule was scooped out of the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Fla. Behnken and Hurley now head back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for a mission debrief and to meet back up with their families.

For NPR News, I'm Brendan Byrne.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS JOSS' "TUNE DOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.