SpaceX Crew Makes Safe, Rare Splashdown

4 astronauts are back after record-setting stay at International Space Station
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 2, 2021 10:00 AM CDT
SpaceX Crew Makes Rare, Safe Splashdown
NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, left, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Japan's Soichi Noguchi, right, just after landing off the coast of Florida.   (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)

A four-member SpaceX crew returning from the International Space Station made a piloted landing in the Gulf of Mexico early Sunday, the first such nighttime landing in almost 54 years. After the gentle water landing just before 3am, aided by four parachutes, the Resilience capsule was lifted onto a recovery ship south of Panama City, Florida, CBS reports. The crew stayed in the capsule while getting reacquainted with gravity after 5½ months in space. "What a ride! Thanks to the @NASA, @SpaceX, and @USCG teams for a safe and successful journey back to Earth," NASA astronaut Victor Glover tweeted. "Another step closer to family and home!" Weather conditions had shifted the landing from daylight, which is the preference, to darkness. The last nighttime water landing was by Apollo 8 in 1968, per NPR.

Among the records set was one for the longest flight by a US space capsule with a crew, topping the 84 days that had stood since 1974. NASA's Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, along with Japan's Soichi Noguchi, moved to the Crew Dragon capsule on Friday afternoon to prepare for their return with engine burns and maneuvers, per CNN. The trip itself took 6½ hours. The experiments they conducted on the space station included one involving the effect of microgravity on human heart tissue. They also grew radishes in an effort to learn about sustainability during long missions. Just before he left the capsule after landing, Glover radioed flight controllers at SpaceX headquarters in California to thank them and tell them they're changing the world. "It's amazing what can be accomplished when people come together," he said. (More SpaceX stories.)

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