CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.—SpaceX safely returned 4 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 categorical journey residence, lasting simply 6 1/2 hours.
The astronauts, three American and one Japanese, flew again in the identical capsule—named Resilience—by 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.”
“We’ll take those miles,” mentioned spacecraft commander Mike Hopkins. “Are they transferrable?” SpaceX replied that the astronauts must verify with the corporate’s advertising and marketing division.
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 somewhat dance as he emerged underneath the extraordinary spotlights.
“It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together,” he instructed 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 United States. The earlier document of 84 days was set by NASA’s closing Skylab station astronauts in 1974.
Saturday night time’s undocking left seven individuals on the house station, 4 of whom arrived per week in the past by way of SpaceX.
“Earthbound!” NASA astronaut Victor Glover, the capsule’s pilot, wrote on Twitter 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 move up a pair of daytime touchdown makes an attempt. Managers switched to a uncommon splashdown in darkness, to reap the benefits of calm climate.
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 environment; it resembled a vibrant star streaking by means of the night time sky.
All 4 fundamental parachutes may very well be seen deploying simply earlier than splashdown, which was additionally seen within the infrared.
Apollo 8—NASA’s first flight to the moon with astronauts—ended with a predawn splashdown within 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 track in a blizzard.
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 danger. Leisure boats stayed away this time.
Once completed with their medical checks on the ship, the astronauts deliberate to hop on a helicopter for the quick 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 instructed reporters.
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 as a substitute.
A tech billionaire has bought your complete three-day flight, which is able to 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.
SpaceX’s subsequent astronaut launch for NASA will observe 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.
By Marcia Dunn