SpaceX returns 4 astronauts to Earth in rare night splashdown

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX safely returned four astronauts from the International Space Station on Sunday, making the primary U.S. crew splashdown in darkness because the Apollo 8 moonshot.

The Dragon capsule parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, simply earlier than 3 a.m., ending the second astronaut flight for Elon Musk’s firm.

It was an specific journey house, lasting simply 6 1/2 hours.

The astronauts, three American and one Japanese, flew again in the identical capsule — named Resilience — in which they launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in November.

“We welcome you back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX,” SpaceX’s Mission Control radioed moments after splashdown. “For those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer program, you’ve earned 68 million miles on this voyage.”

The SpaceX Dragon capsule parachutes into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Crew Dragon Resilience touchdown marks the profitable finish of SpaceX’s second crewed flight.
NASA TV by way of AP

“We’ll take those miles,” mentioned spacecraft commander Mike Hopkins. “Are they transferrable?” SpaceX replied that the astronauts would have to examine with the corporate’s advertising division.

The SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft with parachutes open, returning to Earth as it carries four astronauts just before splashdown.
The touchdown was the primary US crew nighttime splashdown because the Apollo 8 moonshot.
NASA/AFP by way of Getty Images

Within a half-hour of splashdown, the charred capsule — resembling a large toasted marshmallow — had been hoisted onto the restoration ship, with the astronauts exiting quickly afterward. NASA and SpaceX managers marveled at how briskly and easy the operation went. The firm’s senior adviser, Hans Koenigsmann, mentioned: “it looked more like a race car pit stop than anything else.”

Hopkins was the primary one out, doing a little bit dance as he emerged beneath the extraordinary spotlights.

Support teams work around the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft shortly after it landed.
NASA and SpaceX managers marveled at how briskly and easy the touchdown and restoration went.
Bill Ingalls/NASA by way of AP

“It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together,” he informed SpaceX flight controllers at firm headquarters in Hawthorne, California. “Quite frankly, you all are changing the world. Congratulations. It’s great to be back.”

The 167-day mission was the longest for a crew capsule launching from the U.S. The earlier document of 84 days was set by NASA’s last Skylab station astronauts in 1974.

Saturday night’s undocking left seven people on the house station, 4 of whom arrived per week in the past by way of SpaceX.

Support teams work around the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft shortly after it landed.
The 4 astronauts flew again in the identical capsule they launched in again in November.
Bill Ingalls/NASA by way of AP

“Earthbound!” NASA astronaut Victor Glover, the capsule’s pilot, tweeted after departing the station. “One step closer to family and home!”

Hopkins and Glover — together with NASA’s Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi — ought to have returned to Earth final Wednesday, however excessive offshore winds compelled SpaceX to cross up a pair of daytime touchdown makes an attempt. Managers switched to a rare splashdown in darkness, to make the most of calm climate.

The Resilience capsule is seen being hoisted onto the restoration ship.
NASA TV by way of AP

SpaceX had practiced for a nighttime return, simply in case, and even recovered its most up-to-date station cargo capsule from the Gulf of Mexico in darkness. Infrared cameras tracked the astronauts’ capsule because it re-entered the ambiance; it resembled a vibrant star streaking by the night sky.

This screen grab taken from the NASA live feed early on May 2, 2021 shows a crew member from the SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft exiting the capsule after its return to Earth.
A crew member exits the SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule after its return to Earth.
NASA/AFP by way of Getty Images

All 4 essential parachutes might be seen deploying simply earlier than splashdown, which was additionally seen in the infrared.

Apollo 8 — NASA’s first flight to the moon with astronauts — ended with a predawn splashdown in the Pacific close to Hawaii on Dec. 27, 1968. Eight years later, a Soviet capsule with two cosmonauts ended up in a darkish, partially frozen lake in Kazakhstan, blown off target in a blizzard.

NASA astronaut Victor Glover is helped out of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience.
“Earthbound!” NASA astronaut Victor Glover tweeted whereas departing the International Space Station.
Bill Ingalls/NASA by way of AP

That was it for nighttime crew splashdowns — till Sunday.

Despite the early hour, the Coast Guard was out in full power to implement an 11-mile (18-kilometer) keep-out zone across the bobbing Dragon capsule. For SpaceX’s first crew return in August, pleasure boaters swarmed the capsule, a security threat. Leisure boats stayed away this time.

NASA astronaut Shannon Walker is helped out of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience.
NASA astronaut Shannon Walker exiting the capsule.

Once completed with their medical checks on the ship, the astronauts deliberate to hop on a helicopter for the brief flight to shore, then catch a airplane straight to Houston for a reunion with their households.

“It’s not very often you get to wake up on the space station and go to sleep in Houston,” chief flight director Holly Ridings informed reporters.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi is helped out of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience.
JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi waves to cameras as he exits the capsule.

The astronauts’ capsule, Resilience, will head again to Cape Canaveral for refurbishment for SpaceX’s first non-public crew mission in September. The house station docking mechanism can be eliminated, and a model new domed window put in its place.

A tech billionaire has bought your complete three-day flight, which can orbit 75 miles (120 kilometers) above the house station. He’ll fly with a pair of contest winners and a doctor assistant from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, his designated charity for the mission.

NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins is helped out of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience.
NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins celebrates a profitable touchdown and being again house.
Bill Ingalls/NASA by way of AP

SpaceX’s subsequent astronaut launch for NASA will comply with in October.

NASA turned to non-public corporations to service the house station, after the shuttle fleet retired in 2011. SpaceX started provide runs in 2012 and, final May, launched its first crew, ending NASA’s reliance on Russia for astronaut transport.

Boeing isn’t anticipated to launch astronauts till early subsequent yr.

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