“We completed all the objectives for the mission while we were docked and figured out if crew could live in Dragon,” Steve Stich, the program manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said during a press conference on Wednesday. “Now is the right time to bring this vehicle back.”Behnken and Hurley landed under parachute in the Atlantic Ocean near Pensacola, Florida, one of seven landing sites preselected by NASA and SpaceX. They sheltered in the capsule until they were pulled from the water by Go Navigator, a ship operated by SpaceX. It was the first ocean recovery of a crewed spacecraft in 45 years. The last one was after the famous orbital rendezvous between the US and Soviet Union in 1975; since then, all crewed landings have been on terra firma (aside from one accidental lake landing by the Russians).
The Demo-2 splashdown marked the end of a long day for Behnken and Hurley, who spent nearly 20 hours in the capsule before they arrived back on Earth. After it left the ISS, the capsule autonomously executed a few short engine burns to put the spacecraft on a trajectory that would align it with its landing sites. Behnken and Hurley spent the next few hours drifting in orbit while NASA and SpaceX monitored weather conditions at the possible landing sites along the Florida coast. At least two of the sites had to be clear—so no rain, lightning, big waves, or strong winds—before the capsule could execute its final deorbit burn that would bring it down to Earth.
SpaceX mission control made the final decision to deorbit just an hour before Behnken and Hurley landed in the ocean. In the event that they decided to postpone the deorbit burn due to weather, the duo had enough air, water, and food for up to three days in the capsule. But once the decision was made to bring the astronauts back home it was a quick—and extreme—jaunt back to Earth.