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SpaceX crew splashes back down to earth after record mission


A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon capsule, is launched carrying four astronauts on a NASA commercial crew mission to the International Space Station at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, April 23, 2021.

Joe Skipper | Reuters

The four astronauts aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule have safely returned to earth, splashing down in parachutes landing in the Gulf of Mexico after a record-setting mission to the International Space Station. The astronauts spent more than five months in space, the longest-ever duration for a crew launched in an American-built spacecraft.

NASA’s Shannon Walker, Mike Hopkins, and Victor Glover and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi reached the space station via the Dragon capsule, Resilience, last November.

After undocking from the space station at 8:35 p.m. Saturday, the astronauts traveled through the atmosphere and touched down in Mexico’s Gulf near Panama City, Florida, via parachutes at about 2:57 a.m. ET on Sunday. They exited the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft less than an hour after landing.

Weather conditions were reported to be near perfect, with little wind and a calm sea. “It really could not have been a more flawless journey home for Crew Dragon Resilience,” NASA public affairs officer Leah Cheshier said.

The landing was the first crewed and U.S.-made U.S. spacecraft splashdown amid darkness since 1968, and the second time a space capsule has ever landed in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s also only the second time NASA and SpaceX have brought astronauts back to earth on a Crew Dragon spacecraft.

SpaceX mission control welcomed the astronauts with some humor after they touched down: “We welcome you back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX. For those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer program, you’ve earned 68 million miles on this voyage.”

The second operational SpaceX crew mission arrived at the International Space Station early on the morning of April 24, carrying four astronauts for a six-month stay in space.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft ‘Endeavour,’ which launched on a Falcon 9 rocket the day before, docked with the ISS at 5:22 a.m. EDT. The capsule carried an international cadre of astronauts: NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA’s Akihiko Hoshide and ESA’s Thomas Pesquet.

At that time, the Crew-2 mission temporarily brought the total number of astronauts on board the orbiting research laboratory to 11. SpaceX, founded and led by CEO Elon Musk, has now sent 10 astronauts to space in under a year.

SpaceX developed its Crew Dragon spacecraft and fine-tuned its Falcon 9 rocket under NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which provided the company with $3.1 billion to develop the system and launch six operational missions.

—CNBC’s Michael Sheetz contributed to this report.



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2021-05-02 07:57:32

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