The Crew Dragon astronauts on the salvage ship shortly after landing in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.
Bill Ingalls / NASA
SpaceX returned four astronauts to Earth early Sunday after a six-month stint on the International Space Station and injected them into the Gulf of Mexico. It was the first nighttime US splashdown since Apollo 8 in 1968.
Crew 1 astronauts, three Americans and one Japanese, landed near Panama City, Florida just before 3 a.m. It was the second time humans have returned to Earth with a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.
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“We welcome you back to planet earth and thank you for flying SpaceX,” broadcast SpaceX’s Mission Control moments after the hosed down. “For those of you who have signed up for our frequent flyer program, you have earned 68 million miles on this trip.”
“We’re going to take these miles,” said the spaceship’s commander, Colonel Mike Hopkins, shortly after landing. “Are they transferable?”
The Crew Dragon capsule, named Resilience, was launched in November with NASA astronauts Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker on board – along with Soichi Noguchi from Japan’s JAXA space agency. The undocking leaves seven astronauts on the ISS as the Crew 2 mission arrived on the Endeavor spacecraft earlier this week.
“All four crew members are in great shape and good spirits and they are doing really well,” said Holly Ridings, NASA’s chief flight director, at a post-landing press conference.
The astronauts’ 167-day stay on board the ISS was the longest for a crew departing from the USA and broke the previous record of 84 days set by Skylab astronauts in 1974.
The last splash before dawn happened on December 27, 1968 when Apollo 8, the first crewed flight to the moon, landed in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.