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SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule Splashes Down Off Florida Coast. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired August 2, 2020 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy that. Yes, we see that right outside and good news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, confirmation there that all of those hypergolic vapor tests came out positive -- rather than negative, which is a positive thing. So the team was able to approach and now the crew member that is installing the rigging is on top of the capsule.

It's difficult to see there, because the slower vessel that the primary recovery ship is a little further away. But as we heard, it's just a mere two and a half minutes until they will be hoisted out of the water. I'm sorry, 25 minutes, not 2.5 I misheard that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they're fast but they're not that fast. We also have been hearing that the secondary boat, which its primary mission in this case is securing those parachutes, they have already got buoys attached to both droves, and two of the four mains and already had eyes on the other two, so they're moving through that work pretty quickly.

Again, their primary responsibility is getting those parachutes together. The droves detaching from the spacecraft right before the deployment of the mains, the mains, automatically detaching immediately as Dragon detected splashdown. All of that happening right per the timeline.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we've talked a little bit about the hardwired buttons that Bob and Doug have on their seats and in their control displays and cutting the main shoots is one of those buttons.

In the event that they weren't automatically cut after splashdown, Bob and Doug would have had the ability to do so if the winds were stronger, and they caught the parachutes. It could certainly create a condition where the capsule could be moved unintentionally by those dragging parachutes, so definitely want to have that, so that's one of the few buttons that are hardwired into the cabin for the crew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And again, right now we're expecting about 20 minutes for the main recovery vessel, the Go Navigator to reach Dragon. By that point all the rigging will be affixed and then they will be able to use the A-frame hydraulic lift on the back of the vessel to begin to pull the Dragon up out of the water. Bob and Doug did report, they're seeing the guys climbing around

outside their window on the capsule, getting that rigging affixed. Still doing good from all of their reports, and we're just going to see the vessel continue to close in.

It's a little over 1.3 nautical miles still away, but you can see things starting to sharpen out in our view as it does draw in closer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One thing I didn't get to mention as the sequence of events was happening, everything was going so quickly. Just before the deployment, the seats automatically rotated to about 26 degrees and so --

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: For those who are just joining us, we want to show you that you are witnessing history right now.

For the first time in 45 years, a splashdown in the United States. NASA's astronauts aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon made a successful landing there. As described by NASA, the waters were crystal clear, not choppy at all.

The astronauts, Bob and Doug, said they are feeling good, and right now you're watching the two vessels approach the capsule now and within 20 minutes or so, we should see signs of that capsule moving and we will hear more from the two astronauts.

Let's go back to our panel, CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien and Rachel Crane.

I don't know, I have to say I don't think anything could have topped the initial launch two months ago. This was close. I had tears in my eyes and this looks as though it couldn't have gone any better.

Miles, what is your take from watching history?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, you can't help but get a little misty and there's a certain amount of nostalgia to it, Bianna, because as you say, it takes us all back to the Apollo days. I can vividly remember when Apollo 13 landed, it splashdown after that harrowing mission. The whole world on the edge of its seat.

And this is an updated version of that and it was a beautiful day for it. The wind was light. The seas, it looks like a lake out there. I suspect the astronauts are not having too bad a time with potential motion sickness.

But ultimately, what we're talking about is a new era in space, a new way of contracting, a new way of NASA doing business with its contractors at a fixed price and providing a service, and it is a service that these contractors can provide to others as well.

So it really means, now that it's successful, and we can say that now that they're bobbing around in the Gulf of Mexico.

[14:05:10] O'BRIEN: This opens the door to a new kind of economic development in

low Earth orbit, which those of us who follow space and feel strongly about it had been waiting for, for many years.

GOLODRYGA: And it gives the United States some independence in this sphere right now and not having to depend on Russia for riding with and using their shuttles.

Rachel, you spoke with these astronauts, as you described, cool as a cucumber. I have to say that when you even heard them speaking and saying, "We're okay," they sounded cool as cucumbers. We were the ones who were nervous here.

What is this moment been like for them and their families as you've gotten to know them over the past few months?

RACHEL CRANE, CNN BUSINESS INNOVATIONS AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you mentioned their families. This morning, when they woke up they were greeted by a message of voice recording from their son saying, "Get up, daddy." We both have two young sons. One is named Jack and Bob's son is named Theo saying, "Get up, daddy. Get up, daddy. Come home."

One of the sons saying, you know, you need to come home so we could go get our dog and just listening to that recording and knowing that these sons were eagerly awaiting the return of their fathers.

I mean, Miles has said getting misty and even just listening to that recording this morning makes you misty, thinking about you know, that that Bob and Doug, their lives are on the line here. This for us is nail-biting and exciting, but for them, the families, I mean, these are their loved ones who have put their lives on the line, too, as Miles said, help usher in this new generation of space and passing over the torch of low Earth orbit to the commercial sector.

So also the wives, I want to point out, of both Bob and Doug, they're both astronauts. In fact, but Bob's wife, Megan McArthur should be flying in this exact same space capsule, if all goes to plan next spring.

So you know, they are well versed in the nerve wracking journey of space exploration for their loved ones. But of course, it doesn't make it any easier in the moment.

So I know that they are celebrating the fact that their fathers and their husbands are safely in the Gulf of Mexico right now and soon to exit that capsule -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: And you mentioned their sons Jack and Theo and inside that capsule with them we hear is a stuffed Teddy Bear, a dinosaur by the name of Tremor that they were expecting to bring back for their boys.

And just another sign of this affecting families and how historic it is to see this take place right now on live television and for these families to have their fathers making history. CRANE: That's right, Bianna, you know Tremor, little dinosaur that was

the Zero G indicator that they used and Jack and Theo, they were both the ones that chose that. So it was you know, handpicked by their sons. That was the indicator, you know that they were -- their zero G indicator if they were floating in space.

So it's been with them their whole journey coming back down. Maybe they're going to have to like share it. I don't know how they're going to divvy it up, one son gets it for a month, another son gets it for the other month.

But as you point out, it really highlights the family element here and it really is the icing on the cake and sort of humanizing Bob and Doug and as the SpaceX personnel call them, they were the space dads. SpaceX personnel when they were going through this and building the spacecraft and going through all the testing and systems, they had photos of Bob and Doug clustered everywhere to really humanize the astronauts.

So they knew that lives were on the line here, so they would triple check everything to make sure that everything was as safe as it possibly could be to ensure that they came back safely to their families, specifically their sons.

And we humanize this and we also mark this as a historic moment for the country, a moment that President Trump just tweeted about as well saying, "Great to have NASA astronauts return to Earth after a very successful two-month mission. Thank you to all."

Miles, what significance does this mean for the space program going forward? We know there's a Space Force as well. It seems like this is something this administration in particular, is especially invested in. What can we see in the years ahead now that we know that this mission was a success?

O'BRIEN: Well, NASA has its eyes on the moon and eventually Mars, and it is not going to get to the moon on its own. While the hardware you saw demonstrated so well today is not the hardware that would take you to the moon, SpaceX is a company that's probably going to be in the game one way or another, providing assistance to NASA, as it develops crafts to land people and roam around the moon and learn about what it's like to have an outpost in space for a long duration, take those lessons and if everything goes well, point toward Mars with them in hand.

That's the mission now NASA has gotten some good funding. Lots of devils in the details on this and the aggressive timeline which NASA previously had announced to get back to the moon, it seems like it will be difficult to accomplish.

But nonetheless, that is the goal and while low Earth orbit is kind of a separate realm right now, and really more of a realm of the private sector in many respects, the lessons learned here, the companies that have gained experience in low Earth orbit will be important players as NASA marches forward and outward. GOLODRYGA: And the science and technology involved here, we spent a

lot of time talking about the launch and the takeoff of the rocket, but obviously we're going to watch now the reentry, the capsule as it reentered Earth's atmosphere and that seems like such a tranquil moment with those parachutes -- the four parachutes opening up.

But there was a lot of science, a lot of technology invested in this, as we mentioned earlier, Miles, entering Earth's atmosphere at over 17,000 miles an hour, just moments later going down to 16.

O'BRIEN: Yes, you know, it's interesting. A lot of it -- what I like about this program is it has taken what is tried and true. I mean, after all, the capsule was the first way humans got to space and returned to space. You know, that idea of an inherently stable craft sort of like a shuttlecock as it comes in and first feels the wisp of the atmosphere.

And the idea of creating what they call a blade of heat shield beneath it, which means essentially pieces of it kind of get hot and burn off and shed away, keeping the capsule from getting too hot.

Those ideas are as old as the space program itself. But take a look at it. It's obviously a 21st Century take on that. So this idea that they have in an iterative way, taken an old idea that is tried and true and inherently safe and improved on it in ways that make it more autonomous that could give it more flexibility, and frankly, make it look good, because it is a commercial enterprise and not designed by NASA civil servants. It kind of has the right feel, doesn't it?

So this is, you know, a back to the future, something old, something new idea, which is very hardy, and it has the potential as they work on reusing pieces of this time it again, of drastically lowering the cost of access to space.

GOLODRYGA: And we should note, Rachel, that this is a new chapter for NASA, in and of itself, a program that had been changed during the Obama administration to a lot of controversy at the time about this quest to have a public-private partnership with corporations, and here, you see the manifest of that a few years later, where you have a successful launch, a successful reentry, and perhaps a window into what the future of space in this country will look like.

CRANE: That's right, you know, the Commercial Crew Program, which started in 2010, quite controversial at the time. Many people were suspicious of this new relationship with the private sector. Well, basically NASA becoming the customer, not the owner of the spacecraft.

So it was really a radical idea at the time and it took a long time for people to get on board with this, but as we're seeing today, you know, this is a huge success for SpaceX and SpaceX isn't the only name in the game here. Boeing has also been working on their spaceship to also help NASA ferry these astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station, as you pointed out before.

Now having this capability, a homegrown way of getting our U.S. astronauts from U.S. soil to the International Space Station, we are no longer reliant on the Russians to, you know, provide this service for us which we were paying them upwards of $90 million per seat in order to make use of the $150 billion investment that we have in space with the International Space Station.

So once again, having this capability and having it at a fixed cost a much, much cheaper price per seat than that $90 million that we're paying currently for a seat on the Soyuz will drastically open our access to space, allow us to have more astronauts going there more readily.

So this is really, as Miles pointed out before, the dawn of a new era of space -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: And the dawn of a new era of an independent space program here in the United States as well. As you just mentioned, Miles, as we're looking at images now of the vessels approaching the capsule, and I believe we're now just 10 minutes away or so before hopefully we'll hear more from these two astronauts.

How critical was it that the capsule land upright as we had heard from the NASA transmission there that they were upright and when we first heard the voices of the astronauts saying that they were feeling good. What could have been the negative impact if it hadn't gone that way?

[15:10:10]

O'BRIEN: Well, there are ways to get it righted, and if the seas have been a little rougher, that might have been a bigger concern. Today, that looks like a lake I could water ski across right now. So, I don't think it was a huge concern. The parachutes were stable. Everything about it was a picture perfect stabilized approach.

What is kind of interesting to note here for those of us who remember 45 years ago, when the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project brought the last U.S. capsule into the ocean, in that case, the Pacific is the crew actually got out of the capsule and into a raft with the help of Navy divers and that was actually a pretty perilous situation. There was some danger involved in that transfer, especially if the seas were pitching a little bit.

In this case, the decision is and again going back to that idea that they're iterating on old ideas and making them better, the crew is just going to sit tight. Why make them scramble out into a rubber raft and with all the risks that are associated with that? Why even open the hatch while it's in the water?

You know, as you may recall, the second space mission involving Gus Grissom back in the early 60s, that capsule sunk because water got in through the hatch, so that risk is taken away. They'll stay sitting tight.

There's no indication they're having a hard time using the motion sickness bags at the moment and they'll be hoisted aboard the recovery ship inside and then they'll get off either with under their own steam, there's wheelchairs, there's structures there in case their inner ear, their vestibular system is not doing well for them. But it's nice to see a placid environment especially on the first one.

GOLODRYGA: Especially when there have been concerns about the impending storm as well and this is bringing to an end a successful 19-hour journey back to Earth.

We had heard their voices. We'll have to wait a little bit longer to actually see them in person. But let me ask you -- and Miles, I'm not even sure if you know, but what stood out to me was during the feed from NASA was when they mentioned that the vapor tests came out negative which is a good thing. What was that and what why is that significant?

O'BRIEN: Well, so the thrusters on the outside actually at the top of the nose cone underneath the nose cone which fired rockets essentially in orbit to create enough of a speed difference so they would drop down for re-entry, it is called the deorbit burn. They're what are called hypergolic chemicals.

It is monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, really long words but they're highly toxic. They cause cancer. You don't want to be anywhere near these chemicals and so the first thing they want to do is make sure there is no residue of those chemicals anywhere around the outside of that capsule.

And so people who have what are called scape suits, which are kind of, you know, self-contained breathing apparatus kind of things, go close. They use a device to detect these chemicals, and do not have other people approach the capsule until they get the all clear, and that's what happened.

GOLODRYGA: Which is why they said that a negative test is a good test.

O'BRIEN: That's a good thing.

GOLODRYGA: Rachel, let me ask you quickly before we open up the NASA feed again and listen in. We spend so much time focusing on the takeoff and the landing, you actually spoke with the astronauts and really learned what they were doing for these past two months on the International Space Station. What was that?

CRANE: Well, Bianna, you know, the primary mission here was in fact to certify Crew Dragon for future operational missions. But what they realized, there was only one U.S. astronaut onboard, Chris Cassidy and they really needed -- he really needed some help on board.

So actually, Bob and Doug ended up staying for two months, that was not originally the plan and during those two months, they did over a hundred hours of science and research.

So you know, that wouldn't have been able to take place had they not been there. Also, Bob had the opportunity to do not one, not two, four spacewalks while on board, so they replaced the batteries for the on station grid.

So, really they did a ton of science and work and upgraded hardware, but they also did a habitability test while they were on board and this basically was to enable the ground to know what it's like for more than two people to be in Crew Dragon while in space, so they had their fellow you know, crew members come in and they did, you know, little things like just eat in the capsule, dress in the capsule, sleep in the capsule.

To you know what that's like with more than just two crew members, which you know was just Bob and Doug on the way up and obviously on the way down as well. So they can form that operational mission that might be taking off soon as the end of September, what it's like for four crew members to be on board.

They said, it's actually a little tight. It's not quite phone booth style tight, but it is cozy, it was the word that they used.

[15:20:12]

CRANE: So, you know, a lot of science, a lot of stuff was done while on board and as you pointed out today, it was all about the splashdown. But this mission became much more than just certifying Crew Dragon for future operational missions. They were able to accomplish quite a lot onboard.

In addition, you know, to the two hours of exercise that they have to do every day and just simply existing in space, which is not so easy.

GOLODRYGA: Right. It sounds like it was a very productive two months and a productive mission. We just want to tell our viewers what they are seeing now and describe some of it. You've seen the capsule now brought onto a ship.

The recovery crew appears to be securing that capsule so they can move it to another part of the ship and that is when we are expected to see Bob and Doug emerge from this capsule that they've been into, this 19- hour reentry journey back to the United States in their epic splashdown that we just all witnessed.

Can I ask you, Miles? You heard their voices, how big of a relief was that from you when you heard them say we're feeling good?

O'BRIEN: Yes, that's always a worrisome thing. You know, coming back from space after a couple of months is never easy. It's a difficult transition in both directions. And in both cases, it can lead to you know, adaptation problems, which is to say, now, the space, I guess. Some astronauts do better than others.

But ultimately, your body has gone through the mill and to go from floating around in Zero G, which you eventually do adapt to in space, to enduring four G's, four times the way the gravity is as they came down to drop in even at 15 to 20 miles an hour, you're going to feel that impact and then be bobbing in the ocean.

That's a -- you're asking your body a lot and so to hear them, you know, in test pilot fashion, giving it the "Aw, shucks, we're fine" sort of what you might expect.

GOLODRYGA: It's a relief.

O'BRIEN: But reading between the lines, it seems like they're good.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, well, let's listen into NASA's feed again so we can get a sense of what's taking place right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, really crew got the call. We are go for hatch open.

And if you look closely, immediately above the hatch, you can see the area where you can see them working and now that's where those drogue chutes deployed from, the two circles on either side where the mortars were, the main parachutes now hidden by the platform underneath the side hatch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So the crew is in the process of removing the side hatch. We can see that Go Navigator is in transit. It is making its way back to the Pensacola Naval Air Station.

However, Bob and Doug will get a ride from the recovery vessel via helicopter.

So again, we're preparing to open the side hatch, and once that is done, the Flight Surgeon will pop his head in, do an initial check and see how Bob and Doug are doing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At Dragon SpaceX, we've got a slight delay due to some potential NDO hits near the side hatch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy, Mike, we're standing by.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And so they're still continuing to do kind of those sniffs, so checking for any vapors or anything so those NDO, it's NO2 -- nitrogen dioxide -- primarily can get detected in the air from the burning of fuel. So they're going to continue to just inspect around the capsule, make sure that it's again safe for the crew, safe for the recovery experts before they get this hatch open.

But again, moving right along the timeline since the splashdown at 11:48 a.m. Pacific.

And so again, they're just pausing the operations for a moment, doing some additional air sampling around the prop system. We still have telemetry being fed from the vehicle, so flight controllers here in Hawthorne able to monitor prop tanks -- propulsion tank pressures -- and not seeing any issues with those at the moment.

So again, just a short pause in the operations as again, they're just sniffing around the capsule, making sure we don't have any readings that might indicate a fuel leak or anything around the vehicle.

They did detect some NDOs, some nitrogen dioxide, which is typically residue that arises from the burning of fuel. So they're continuing to do just a couple of different air readings, grab samples essentially before they proceed with the hatch opening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Dragon SpaceX update, we're still investigating. It looks like we'll be sending up the service section purge. We're working on an ETA for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay, if you're just joining us, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have safely returned from the International Space Station. They made an on time splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico just off the coast of Pensacola, Florida at 11:48 a.m. Pacific, 1848 a.m. Universal Time and they have been pulled out of the water and hoisted onto the recovery vessel, Go Navigator.

And right now, the team is just completing -- they did an initial check and found that there might be some remnant vapors, which we certainly don't want to be around when we have Bob and Doug coming out of the capsule.

So the team is working to purge the service section in preparation for crew egress.

Just a little commentary on the hatches that we've been talking about. So while Dragon's top hatch is used to connect to the International Space Station, that's the one that's located under the nose cone which is currently hidden there at the top of the capsule.

Before -- this is the side hatch. It is what is utilized for ingress and egress both on the launch pad as well as coming up here on the recovery vessel.

When the capsule is docked to the International Space Station, they will use the forward hatch to exit and enter the capsule.

Something to note that once that side hatch is opened, it'll be the first time that Bob and Doug have gotten a breath of fresh air for the first time that they've been able to do so in two months since they boarded the Falcon 9 at the start of their mission back on May 30th.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, with an on-time splashdown, they returned with almost exactly 64 days in space on this mission, just a few minutes shy of that.

So I know they're looking forward to it at a minimum, and a little bit more of a stable condition now that they're on the boat, not in the water.

But again, our teams just continuing to step through. They are reporting that they're seeing all of the vapor levels that they initially detected have been dropping and that service section for --

[15:30:14]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dragon, SpaceX, we show that levels are declining, but are continuing with purge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And in addition, just so you know, we are not seeing any, you know, leak indications or anything like that. These are pretty small levels, but we still need to do the purge at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Okay, copy. Yes, you read my mind, Mike. We're just wondering if you saw any indications of leak or depressurization so far, but it sounds like it's just part of the deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's a good read back, Doug.

GOLODRYGA: We've just been listening to the NASA feed of the reentry of the SpaceX Crew Dragon, a successful reentry. The capsule has just been hoisted onto a vessel and everything had been going according to plan. It appears that everything is still fine, but Miles, I want to go back to my panel because I'm glad I asked you about that vapor test that we had heard earlier, because it appears that there may still be some remnant of the nitrogen dioxide vapor, which is why we're seeing this delay.

But it doesn't appear that NASA is worried about where things stand right now.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I think, Bianna, let's put this in the abundance of caution category, just looking at the way they're operating around there. You don't see them in, you know, full suits, et cetera, so I think it's probably a minor concern.

They have specific numbers that they're trying to hit, and so they're going to do that because that's by the book, but I don't think this has anything to worry about and certainly it's going to dissipate eventually.

And we just want to see those guys because then I'm sure they're ready to get out and go on -- get on that helicopter and get themselves to Pensacola and ultimately a jet that will take them back to Houston.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, Rachel, as we heard from the NASA feed, reminding us that Bob and Doug are eager to get some fresh air as well. It's been 63 - 64 days that they haven't been on Earth here outside and this must be something that they obviously aren't panicked about, but it is par for the course and they are just waiting to get the all clear.

CRANE: That's right, Bianna. We heard them inquire about was NASA SpaceX -- were they worried about some kind of leak. They were, I'm sure very happy to hear no, that they were not concerned about a leak.

But as you pointed out, they are very eager to feel that wind on their face and to get back to their families right now on that Go Navigator recovery vessel. There's about 40 personnel, you know, so medical personnel to help them if in the case that they need it.

Also, you know, the ship's crew, NASA cargo experts people also already starting to refab process, taking down the data from the space capsule. So a lot is going on or a lot will begin to go on once they exit the

capsule, but right now, you know, I'm sure they're just very eager to stretch their legs once they can really move, get out of their spacesuits eventually and hug their families, get back to Houston.

But you know, this is, as we know right now, this is -- SpaceX and NASA saying that there's nothing really to worry about here as of yet. That they're just taking precautions, making sure that they know what the cause and what's going on here with the NDO's.

But, you know, I'm sure they're very eager to get out of that space capsule.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, and to be reunited with their families and their boys. And you know, this has been a bit of a reprieve from us, well deserved in covering the dire news of the day and obviously, that being COVID- 19.

But you can't escape reality when you look at the recovery crew, all wearing masks as well, and when Bob and Doug left two months ago, they had to socially distance in their farewells to their family members.

How has NASA, Miles, been coping through this new world of running through a pandemic?

O'BRIEN: Well, like all of us in many respects, they certainly limited the number of people who could attend the launch, and the most recent launch to Mars as well.

So there's a lot less hands-on kind of up close with NASA. But if you think about spaceflight, historically, it's always been about quarantine.

[15:35:14]

O'BRIEN: The astronauts had to spend a lot of time in quarantine in advance to make sure they weren't sick while they were in space. And of course, in the early Apollo missions, the moon missions, they had a long time in quarantine when they return from the moon out of concern that they might bring back some kind of alien bug that we have no defenses for, which is an interesting twist now that we're living in the world of a pandemic. It makes you think about that a little bit differently, doesn't it?

GOLODRYGA: It sure does. And Rachel, when we're looking at the recovery crew and monitoring the levels of these vapors and these toxic vapors, is there some specific number that they are getting an indication of, it is higher than it needs to be?

I'm just wondering, what it was that they detected that launched them to at least give a reprieve here.

CRANE: Yes, well, the fact that they -- you know, we don't see them wearing extreme protective wear is a good indicator that those levels aren't too high. I'm not sure exactly the number that they indicated. They have gas

meters and what have you to, to be able to detect if those gases are present.

But as you can see, you know, they're wearing COVID masks. They're not worrying for their protective gear, so they can't be too concerned about their own safety at the moment. If those levels were higher, I'm sure they'd be taking different precautions.

But just back to the COVID-19 point that you and Miles were just speaking of. You know, I was present at the launch, and NASA was taking extreme precautions.

Every single time you entered the building, you had to have a temperature check. The crowds that would have typically been at Kennedy Space Center witnessing the launch, they weren't there. They weren't allowed to be there.

Of course, people gathered on the beaches to watch that historic launch, but also you know, you're seeing at Mission Control at Hawthorne, everybody wearing a mask, but what you won't see is a huge welcoming committee at Johnson Space Center, which would typically be there, you know, welcoming these guys home.

As a result of COVID-19, you just can't have those huge gatherings anymore. So, you know, certain things have been had to adjust as a result of the pandemic. But as we saw today, and as we saw two months ago, it didn't stop NASA and SpaceX from moving forward with their plans, and really making history.

GOLODRYGA: And Miles, if we can go back to what we're watching right now, just making sure that these fumes are at stable levels. What -- is it just being back in Earth's atmosphere that will make that happen because it doesn't appear that they're doing anything to trigger the levels to fall?

O'BRIEN: It just could be leftover from the burn itself. These chemicals are -- hypergolic means, when they come in contact with each other, they immediately combust. There's no initial external ignition required.

And so to have them in proximity with each other is always scary stuff. And then on top of that, they are extremely toxic chemicals in many ways.

So it is stuff to be very careful of, in the whole history of the space program, the processing of vehicles. This has been a huge challenge. And frankly, it's one of the big reasons going to space is so expensive, because this is a big deal trying to keep these, you know, very difficult and dangerous genies in the bottle.

And so as much as anything here, Bianna, they want to know why this is happening. Remember, this is a test flight. So they want to preserve whatever circumstances are occurring out there now, so they understand if there is something they need to fix before they go fly again. So some of this is an abundance of caution, out of potentially

breathing fumes, but a lot of it is also just understanding what it is in fact, relatively new hardware.

GOLODRYGA: And they have to really be prepared for anything and obviously, err on the side of caution. Rachel, as you were talking to Bob and Doug, I go back to you calling this a guinea pig experience and this really has been for them.

So we're not experiencing a typical NASA flight here and we should remind our audience that what we're witnessing is something that NASA and officials there are really witnessing for the first time play out as well.

CRANE: Absolutely. This partnership also with NASA and SpaceX when it comes to crewed missions, you know, this is a whole new element as well. So for SpaceX, they've never done these recovery missions with a crew before. They've only done them with cargo.

So there's a lot of new elements here, a lot of things that are being tested for the first time. So once again, you know, making Bob and Doug those guinea pigs inside that space capsule waiting to get out.

But you know, we've really witness history here and now we see that there are two people with PPE and what looks like oxygen tanks, on their backs, so they are you know, making sure that everything is safe for them to exit that capsule.

[15:40:09]

CRANE: Before you know, I mentioned that they were just the COVID-19 masks, but now we do see that they're taking further measures to be wearing those PPEs as they're taking those measurements.

But as we heard earlier, NASA and SpaceX saying that they weren't too concerned about these levels, that they weren't -- they did not think that there was a leak and as Miles pointed out, it could just be residue.

So you know, we're all just waiting to see when those levels will continue to drop and when they will exit that capsule.

GOLODRYGA: Well, just to update you and our viewers, the NASA feed is suggesting that the levels are actually going down and according to their calculations, which obviously is good news as well.

If we want to go to the feed at some point and listen to them as they update that, but again, both the astronauts didn't express much alarm and as we've heard from the NASA feed as well, they aren't too alarmed by this. They want to err on the side of caution.

Can you talk about though, Rachel, what the next two weeks and next few weeks will look like for Bob and Doug once they're reunited with their family? How much observation will they be under?

CRANE: Well, first of all, let's just talk about the next few hours, too, once they exit this capsule, you know, hopefully once this moment here that's a little tense clears up. They'll get on a helicopter, and they'll eventually make their way back to Johnson Space Center where they will be reunited with their families.

There will also be a press conference following today's splashdown, giving us more details on the splashdown and more data hopefully, you know, Bob and Doug will be a part of that. We're not a hundred percent sure.

And you know, they will be conducting a lot of post splashdown and post mission surveys with NASA and SpaceX giving them a lowdown of what their experiences were like. You know, several tests will be happening, but also, they will just be enjoying their families.

They are very happy to be back on Earth and be able to embrace their families. As we heard this morning, one of their sons saying they can't wait for them to get home so they could go get their dog, so you know just a simple father some things, like going to get your dog. I think that that sort of, you know also in the near future for both Bob and Doug -- Brianna.

Well they all deserve it. And Miles, if we can just reset now as we're watching these rescue, the recovery crew there wait for these vapor levels to go down, is this something that you see in a typical or previous reentries in terms of the shuttle? Were there concerns about these vapors then? Does it differ at all given that this is now a capsule and something that we haven't seen before?

O'BRIEN: The same thing happened after every shuttle landing because the same chemicals were used for the on-orbit thrusters for the shuttle -- same stuff.

And what made it slightly different is frankly, the size of the vehicle. Most of the stuff was at one end, the astronauts are at another end and they could clear things out more quickly.

In this case, again, you have a new craft. You want to understand why you have this problem if it's a problem at all and probably want to purge those tanks before you let them out just to once again, be on the safe side because of the volatile nature of these chemicals.

But there was an entire team that would approach the shuttle, even as the wheels were still rolling to go up to it and with long poles, put those sniffers up to the backside of the shuttle, where a lot of those hypergolic fuels are stored and the front portion as well.

And in that case, of course, the astronauts on the shuttle had more or less kind of a -- you could call it a jet-way, in that case a shuttle- way with a special craft that would attach to it.

So it was just a different configuration and we didn't notice it as much as we are today.

GOLODRYGA: So in terms of how Bob and Doug are feeling and their reaction to this, this is something that they had been prepared perhaps, to have to experience and not something that should be too alarming for them given that this is something that transpires every time we have a reentry.

O'BRIEN: Yes. They are in climate control. There's plenty of air inside. They are cool as cucumbers. Anyway, we've already established that they certainly must -- They must have ice water in their veins.

And yet at the end of all of this, to have to spend a few minutes in their custom fitted couch in their suit, waiting for people to open the door, I suspect in the grand scheme of things, this is not a huge deal for them.

GOLODRYGA: And Rachel, listening to the NASA feed, it was interesting to hear as you were talking about what the next few hours are going to look like.

There's going to be a Flight Surgeon who's going to enter and I guess have a quick observation and check in with Bob and Doug and make sure everything is okay and then they're actually going to be taken on a helicopter to the final vessel there in their landing spot as opposed to as we were talking about earlier with Miles, as happened 45 years ago having them get out on their own right now.

[15:45:20]

CRANE: That's right. That Flight Surgeon getting in just to make sure to do some initial checks that Bob and Doug are in fact safe and in good condition to get out of that space capsule.

As Miles pointed out earlier, if they need the assistance, there are stretchers onboard as well as wheelchairs because sometimes after two months in space, it can be very, very difficult to get you know, here literally sea legs back.

So, if they need that assistance that will be there and then they will enter into that helicopter going to Pensacola Air Base and then from there, getting on to another aircraft heading to Johnson Space Center.

So the Flight Surgeon being there. That was already planned. That has nothing to do with this little you know, hiccup here that was always the plan to have the Flight Surgeon enter into the capsule and do that initial check on the astronauts to make sure that you know, all is good, even though we heard them say over the net that all is good that they were feeling well.

So that was really a wonderful thing to hear just, you know, a little bit ago that they were feeling good. I'm sure the Flight Surgeon more than anybody else was breathing a sigh of relief -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. We all were breathing sighs of relief to hear that from them. And as you mentioned, and Miles, they are going to be going to the Johnson Space Center there and reunited with their families.

Hopefully, maybe we'll hear from them in the next few hours. What is it that will happen with the capsule? Where does the capsule go after this?

O'BRIEN: Well, the capsule is set for refurbishment and this is this at the core of Elon Musk's approach and philosophy for going to space is to reuse as much as you can. We've all seen famously, those fly back boosters that can land on those platforms either on the ocean or on land. The capsule itself in the Apollo days, we threw them away or they are in museums now.

In this case, this capsule is slated to fly first quarter of 2021 on what would be the third official, well, I guess, this is a test mission, so it would be the second official crew mission to the International Space Station on board a Dragon.

There will be another flight in another capsule coming up at the end of September involving three U.S. astronauts and a Japanese astronaut. So the idea is to you know, put some -- fix up the heat shield. They are pretty watertight. They learned a lot about that over the years flying cargo missions to the International Space Station to make sure water doesn't become a problem.

Obviously, saltwater and metal is not a good combination generally. So, they have to be cautious about those sorts of things. But this capsule will fly in space again.

GOLODRYGA: So we've just got some good news from NASA and they've checked the fumes, zero across the board. Negative is a good thing in this case.

So again, reassuring news there. It just took a few minutes, as Rachel said, a minor hiccup when you look at the bigger perspective, so this may have taken a bit longer, but now we know hopefully that everything is safe and sound and those noxious fumes are down to zero.

And soon we should be seeing that capsule move and we'll see the Flight Surgeon, perhaps go in. I don't know if we will be able to see that ourselves. But the rest of the tick tock appears to be on schedule.

Miles, when you hear that the fumes are down now to zero. Again, you said this happens all the time when you have a reentry. I guess, we've never focused so much on this because this capsule is so small and this is a novel mission.

But it is reassuring to hear that everything is where it should be right now.

O'BRIEN: This is completely in the realm of something you would expect. That's why they have this whole protocol on approaching a spacecraft as it returns. Maybe they'll tweak something on the next mission. That's what test flight is all about. You fly, you learn and you change your design accordingly.

Maybe they'll put a little less of that nitrogen to trackside, which is hard for me to say, in a tank the next time, a little less of it, perhaps, or maybe they need that margin and they'll just make it as a standard part of any reentry, purging that tank a little sooner.

All of these little nuances are what ultimately make spaceflight as safe as it can possibly be as you march forward. And that's especially in the case of a test flight. They're taking good notes on all this.

GOLODRYGA: And you learn from experience. Rachel, we talked about these two astronauts, these two childhood friends Bob and Doug, cool as a cucumber. I feel like that's a redundant way we're going to be describing them. It's also accurate.

But can you talk about how they felt going into this as guinea pigs, knowing that perhaps something could go wrong. Every mission is obviously risky, but especially a new one.

[15:50:19]

CRANE: You know, they were actually involved in some of the developmental phases of, you know, the spacesuits. They were working hand in hand with SpaceX. And the way they described it to me as they can finish each other's sentences. So that closeness and their long history, their friendship really helps them in the cockpit.

You know, God forbid, anything -- an anomaly was to take place and there was something you know, horribly wrong, that they would be able to sort of read each other instinctually and be able to troubleshoot in the space capsule because of that history that they have.

You know, they were in each other's weddings. They've been best friends forever. They've never though flown together before.

So they were really looking forward not only to making history, but just making history together. And they spoke, you know, numerous times on how that friendship really, really did help them in the cockpit to, you know, maybe help them continue to stay calm and cool.

But really just when it comes down to the logistics that they just knew each other so well they could read each other's thoughts, which is something that's invaluable when we are talking about space explorations. It's one of those things that you know, crews, they train for so long to try and achieve that.

So the fact that Bob and Doug were going into it already with that history gave them that extra edge -- Brianna.

GOLODRYGA: And to have this experience together, they'll carry with them for the rest of their lives. It's only fair that they do it together, right, as opposed to with another partner there.

Miles, what have you learned over the course of these few months as we've watched history take place about the direction that the U.S. Space Program is headed on?

O'BRIEN: It's an optimistic time in a difficult period for all of us, isn't it? You know, it's interesting to -- well, and I guess it's a relief, isn't it, Bianna, to take a moment to transcend literally our worldly worries and think about something else.

And ultimately, that's what you know, NASA, of course, was born in the middle of the Cold War as an instrument of soft power in a rivalry with the Soviet Union. But what it also does for us is it allows us literally and

figuratively to lift our horizons and look in a different place and dream a little bit.

And I for one, welcomed the opportunity to take a break and even for just a moment, a little dream about what the world could be, and how things might be if we work together.

The International Space Station, imagine that, you know, 16 or 17 nations building this $150 billion craft that orbits the planet. I can't think of any other peacetime enterprise that has brought nations together in a more meaningful way than that.

And so space has great opportunity to bring us together at a time when we really need each other and yet we seem to be so pulled apart.

So I may sound like a Pollyanna for space, but it's kind of the -- it's the tonic I need right now.

GOLODRYGA: Look, I am with you. I was watching the takeoff. I heard and followed Rachel on Instagram where she was screaming. Everybody's heart was racing in watching that and you feel patriotic. You feel like there's a future ahead for space exploration, and here we watch that successful reentry.

And Rachel, you'd be remiss not to talk about the fact that it's happening when so many Americans are confined to their homes, right, and they're watching something take place, which by all accounts was very successful and it's somewhat hopeful to talk about the future and technology and something, perhaps to look forward to.

CRANE: Absolutely. I mean, it's a complete and utter joy to be able to cover this right now, not just because both Miles and I, you know, we're huge space enthusiasts. We've been following this every step of the way.

But also, it's what the world needs. It's inspiring to see, you know, space exploration happen successfully in this new dawn of space exploration that we're entering. As we spoke about, you know, potentially the Artemis mission landing back on the moon in 2024.

Successful missions like today, make us feel that that is actually possible, that 2024 landing on the moon, the first female on the moon is possible and might just happen in a few years.

And being there at that launch. You know, today I'm covering this from home, but being there in that moment, with the backdrop of what's happening not only in our country, but really around the world, it really added an extra layer of significance to what they were doing, an extra layer of emotion, honestly and giving everybody hope and giving you know, having everybody look at the sky and think about what could be and what is happening.

[15:55:14]

CRANE: It is really incredible to be there to witness it, to be able to tell the story, and once again, you know, today is just the cherry on top of Demo 2 and, you know, the certification process for Crew Dragon, but really all of what's to come.

You know, these missions to the International Space Station, and SpaceX and you know, soon to be Boeing as well, ferrying our astronauts back from American soil to the International Space Station. These launches will once again be happening all the time.

So these moments of inspiration and for children to be able to witness these launches will be incredibly powerful and hopefully will inspire a new generation of space explorers -- Brianna.

GOLODRYGA: And we mentioned President Trump's tweet earlier welcoming back the crew and congratulating the astronauts. We should also note that President Obama has tweeted as well. We have his tweet up there. He says, "Welcome home, Bob and Doug. We launched the Commercial Crew Program to strengthen our U.S. Space Program and it's been great to see its success. This historic NASA SpaceX mission is a symbol of what American ingenuity and inventiveness can achieve."

And this happens, as we mentioned, Rachel, there was a lot of controversy years ago when President Obama laid out a new path for a public-private partnership for NASA, and it looks like it really has paid off.

CRANE: It certainly has paid off and you know, it will only continue to do so in the coming years in terms of cost savings for NASA. NASA being able to shift its focus to deep space exploration to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

You know, passing this over to private companies and the commercial sector really frees them up to do those really, really inspiring missions. Those things that we haven't done in ages like putting boots back on the moon, and you know, hopefully very soon going to Mars and putting boots on Mars.

So this is a truly significant day in terms of that larger goal of freeing up NASA's resources and brainpower to focus on those other missions.

But as you pointed out this -- the Commercial Crew Program was quite, quite controversial at the beginning. A lot of people were resistant to this quite revolutionary change at the time, relying on the commercial sector to run these missions.

As we pointed out earlier, you know, NASA is not the owner of this spacecraft, they are the customer on them. So they have to relinquish some of the control as a result.

Of course, they had their -- you know, they were working in step with SpaceX every step of the way on this mission and will continue to do so. But they're working with SpaceX.

It's not their show, or it's not only their show, so that took some getting used to for a lot of people who had been at NASA for a long time, but as you pointed out, it's clearly paid off in spades and the cost savings will be incredibly significant in years to come.

GOLODRYGA: You're so right, Rachel. I've been following going back and forth between the NASA administrators Twitter feed and Elon Musk's Twitter feed, just to give you a sense of now what the new normal is in terms of U.S. space exploration.

Miles as we conclude now, I want to get some final words from you. We haven't seen these astronauts yet. But by all accounts, it appears that they are safe and this has been a successful mission.

O'BRIEN: It's just a great validation and vindication of this idea of injecting private enterprise into space. There were many skeptics. There were a lot of special interests that stood in the way, a lot of politicians that stood in the way.

The Deputy Administrator of NASA under President Obama, Lori Garver, many arrows in her back as she championed this idea and really became a change agent and you know how that can be sometimes in Washington.

But enough of commercial crew survived to get us to this day. And the proof is in the splashdown.

GOLODRYGA: We will continue to follow this coverage throughout the day here on CNN. I want to tell you, it's my honor to cover this historic moment here with you and to be with you.

Miles and Rachel, I want to thank you so much, and CNN will continue with Ana Cabrera.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Waiting for four months at this point. This is our first opportunity to say hello to Bob and Doug, our favorite space dads as they are now about to egress or exit from Dragon Crew Endeavor.

Again, this is the culmination of what has been about a 19-hour journey home, all starting yesterday as they departed the International Space Station.

So this hatch will be manually opened and once doing so, Flight Surgeon will say hello and make sure that they're still doing all right and then proceed to assist them with exiting the capsule.

[16:00:10]