The Crew Dragon capsule ahead of landing in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: NASA TV

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are safely back on Earth after a historic flight to and from the International Space Station provided by SpaceX.

Why it matters: The landing marks the end of SpaceX's first crewed trip to the space station for NASA and the beginning of the space agency's next phase in exploration, one marked by partnerships with private companies.

State of play: The two astronauts splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:48pm ET after undocking from the station on Saturday.

  • "Thanks for flying SpaceX," a SpaceX mission controller said after the Crew Dragon splashed down.
  • A SpaceX vessel has recovered Hurley and Behnken from their Crew Dragon capsule and the two astronauts will be transported to dry land in Florida by helicopter before being flown back home to their families in Houston.

The big picture: Behnken and Hurley's two-month mission marked the first time people have launched to orbit from the U.S. since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

  • 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.
  • That change, in theory, will free the agency (and its budget) up to focus more fully on further-afield goals, like getting people to the Moon and Mars.

What's next: NASA already has plans to launch more astronauts to the space station with SpaceX in the near future.

  • Behnken and Hurley's test flight — designed to certify the Crew Dragon for full operation — is expected to be followed up with SpaceX's first operational flight scheduled for late September.
  • That flight will see NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi fly to the station for a six-month mission.

One fun thing: Behnken's wife and fellow astronaut Megan McArthur is also expected to launch to the orbiting laboratory aboard the second operational flight of the Crew Dragon.

Go deeper

How NASA and the Space Force might fare under Biden

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Joe Biden hasn't gone out of his way to talk about outer space during his presidential campaign. That could be bad news for NASA's exploration ambitions, but good news for the Space Force.

The big picture: NASA faces two threats with any new administration: policy whiplash and budget cuts. In a potential Biden administration, the space agency could get to stay the course on the policy front, while competing with other priorities on the spending side.

28 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's China plan: Bring allies

Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Joe Biden is planning to confront China across the globe, embracing some of President Trump's goals but rejecting his means.

The big picture: By starting a trade war with China, Trump has fundamentally altered the U.S.- China relationship — and forced both Republicans and Democrats to accept a more confrontational approach towards Beijing.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Fauci says U.S. may not return to normal until 2022 — Trump's testing czar: Surge "is real" and not just caused by more tests
  2. World: Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases
  3. Europe faces "stronger and deadlier" wave France imposes lockdown Germany to close bars and restaurants for a month.
  4. Sports: Boston Marathon delayed MLB to investigate Dodgers player who joined celebration after positive COVID test.