Four astronauts returned from the International Space Station early Sunday morning aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico nearly six months after arriving at the orbital laboratory in November last year as the first operational, long-duration crew under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Soichi Noguchi boarded Crew Dragon and undocked from the space station at 8:35PM ET Saturday to begin their roughly six-hour trek home. The crew splashed down off the coast of Panama City, Florida at 2:56am ET on Sunday, NASA said in a news release.
The crew’s return was initially set for Wednesday, April 28th, but was delayed due to high winds in the splashdown zone.
The astronaut quartet tallied 167 days aboard the space station, a science laboratory orbiting Earth 250 miles above ground that has continuously housed international crews of astronauts for over two decades.
This particular Crew Dragon spacecraft, dubbed Resilience by its crew, was the second SpaceX capsule to fly humans, coming after SpaceX’s first crewed mission, Demo-2, in May 2020. Resilience broke the record for the longest-serving US spacecraft to be docked on the ISS, surpassing the 84 days tallied by the 1974 Skylab 4 crew.
Crew Dragon Resilience’s return marked the first nighttime splashdown of a crewed US spacecraft since December 1968, when Apollo 8 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, NASA said.
The first splashdown of a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule took place in August 2020 for the Demo-2 mission, returning NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley from space after a two-month test mission.
That splashdown, in the Gulf of Mexico, attracted a swarm of Florida boaters coming dangerously close to Crew Dragon. NASA and the US Coast Guard beefed up protections for Crew-1’s splashdown to make sure no one comes close. (The concern: Crew Dragon might leak highly flammable fuels that, if ignited, would endanger anyone coming too close. The crew inside would be safe.)