Four astronauts strapped into a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule safely splashed down into glasslike waters off the Florida coast early Sunday, wrapping up their six-month mission to the International Space Station.
After departing the night before, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi, and Shannon Walker were lowered into the Gulf of Mexico under the safety of four main parachutes at 2:57 a.m. Eastern time. SpaceX boats stationed near Panama City quickly swarmed the capsule, named Resilience, and prepped for recovery.
“On behalf of NASA and SpaceX teams, we welcome you back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX,” a Crew Operations and Resources Engineer, or CORE, said during the live webcast. “For those of you enrolled in our frequent flier program, you’ve earned 68 million miles on this voyage.”
“It is great to be back on planet Earth,” mission commander Hopkins said while waiting for recovery. “And we’ll take those miles. Are they transferable?”
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The last chunk of those 68 million miles were packed with dramatic milestones as Crew Dragon slowed from 17,000 mph in orbit to just 16 mph at splashdown. The astronauts experienced 3 to 5 Gs during the descent, which is roughly what they felt during Falcon 9’s liftoff from Kennedy Space Center last November. Their Crew-1 mission marked the first long-duration flight for SpaceX and the company’s second with astronauts.
NASA said weather in the gulf was “nearly perfect” with winds of 3 mph and wave heights of less than one foot. Mission managers can select from several sites around Florida depending on weather conditions.
Shortly after splashdown, Resilience was hoisted onto a customized boat and Crew-1’s astronauts were slowly helped out of the side hatch.
“On behalf of Crew-1 and our families, we just want to say thank you,” Hopkins said. “We want to say thank you for this amazing vehicle Resilience. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together.”
“I’d like to say quite frankly that you all are changing the world,” he said as SpaceX employees in Hawthorne, California, cheered in the background.
After transport to Panama City via helicopter, Crew-1 will fly to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for a short quarantine period and more detailed medical checkouts. They will receive coronavirus vaccine doses, too.
Their recovery was mostly uneventful compared to the last time astronauts were pulled out of the gulf. After Demo-2 astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley splashed down in August, their Endeavour capsule was swarmed by civilian boaters trying to get a better view – a dangerous move due to leftover toxic propellants used by the spacecraft.
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NASA and SpaceX said a combination of better security and a bigger Coast Guard presence prevented a similar situation.
Back on the ISS, one Crew Dragon – Endeavour – remains attached. It ferried NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japan’s Aki Hoshide, and Europe’s Thomas Pesquet to orbit just over a week ago. Their Crew-2 mission will also last about six months.
NASA pays SpaceX to fly astronauts as part of the Commercial Crew Program, which took shape to restore U.S.-based human spaceflight after the end of the space shuttle.
The Space Coast, meanwhile, should see its next rocket launch on Tuesday. If schedules hold, a Falcon 9 rocket will fly 60 Starlink satellites from KSC at 3:01 p.m., marking the company’s 26th internet mission. The Space Force said weather should be 80% “go” for the liftoff.