WASHINGTON: Four astronauts returned safely to Earth from the International Space Station early in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, parachuting to splash-down in the Gulf of Mexico, NASA said.
Their return marked the end of the first crew rotation mission to the station by the Crew Dragon spacecraft, developed in partnership between NASA and Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX, the agency said in a statement.
The crew – NASA’s Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi – had launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 15, propelled by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The capsule, dubbed Resilience by the crew, splashed down in darkness off the coast of Panama City, Florida. The crew reported they were feeling well after their arrival back on Earth following a nearly six-month mission aboard the International Space Station
Teams aboard the Go Navigator recovery ship retrieved the capsule and hoisted it onto the deck about half an hour later. It was the first nighttime splashdown for NASA since the crew of Apollo 8 arrived in the Pacific Ocean on Dec 27, 1968.
The four astronauts went to space last November as the crew on the first fully operational mission to the ISS aboard a vehicle made by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has become NASA’s favoured commercial transportation partner.
Commander Michael Hopkins was the first to emerge after the hatch was opened, doing a little jig as he set foot on deck, followed shortly after by fellow Nasa astronaut Victor Glover. NASA astronaut Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi were the other two aboard.
After medical checks, the four astronauts will be flown by helicopter to Pensacola to board a plane for Houston to be reunited with their friends and family. They traveled 71.2 million miles during their 168 days in orbit (including 167 days aboard the space station).
Seven astronauts remained on the ISS including a new crew of four who arrived on a different SpaceX craft last week. This was the first launch to the ISS from US soil since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.