CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Four astronauts returned to Earth early Sunday splashing down in darkness off Florida’s Gulf Coast following a 6-month stay 200 miles above the planet.
NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker along with Japanese space agency, JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi first began their journey home by undocking the SpaceX Dragon Resilience from the International Space Station Saturday evening.
The Crew-1 astronauts could be seen taking a few last minute selfies and photos with their other space station crew members before getting into their spacecraft to head home.
Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi were all in their black-and-white SpaceX flight suits and the Dragon spacecraft hatch closed to the ISS around 6:30 p.m. Undocking happen on time at 8:35 p.m.
“Resilience departure, have a safe trip back home and a safe landing,” Space Station commander JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide said wishing the Crew-1 astronauts well as the spacecraft could be seen backing away from the space station.
“Thanks for your hospitality. Sorry for staying a little bit longer,” Hopkins responded. “We’ll see you back on Earth.”
The journey home for the SpaceX Dragon Resilience capsule and its crew was twice delayed due to weather. The astronauts’ return was first pushed back earlier this week from Wednesday to Saturday and then to Sunday.
With Crew-1′s departure there are now seven astronauts at the space station: three Americans, two Russians, one Japanese and one French.
Preparations are underway on the recovery vessel GO Navigator for the landing of Crew-1 @NASA_Astronauts @AstroVicGlover, @Astro_illini, and Shannon Walker, and @JAXA_en Soichi Noguchi. Keep checking back for more!📷https://t.co/pJxSDC6QsN pic.twitter.com/yeX2rXbOUU— NASA HQ PHOTO (@nasahqphoto) May 2, 2021
The spacecraft landed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City at 2:57 a.m. Sunday. There was also a backup landing site area near Tampa should the weather turn.
The weather was favorable for the Dragon to land, assisted by parachutes, according to SpaceX.
Recovery teams quickly arrived at the spaceship to begin securing the capsule to bring on board SpaceX’s recovery boat. Teams were treated to a marine visitor ahead of the splashdown. NASA shared a photo of a dolphin in the dark waters as recovery teams looked on.
If the landing needed to be delayed the astronauts have three days of food, snacks and supplies onboard Dragon Resilience. There is also a bathroom inside the capsule.
The splashdown Sunday was the first time in more than 50 years a capsule will be retrieved at sea in the darkness of night, according to NASA. The last time this happened was when Apollo 8 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 27, 1968, with NASA astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders.
Forecasters were closely watching wind and wave height at sea for a safe homecoming for the astronauts and must consider the safety of recovery teams who retrieve the capsule.
The Coast Guard’s 8th District Headquarters in New Orleans issued a 2-mile safety zone for the splashdown area in an attempt to keep pleasure boaters from coming close to the spacecraft.
The Sun rises on Crew Dragon Resilience. Crew-1 are coming home. pic.twitter.com/6TzuouGlkw— NASA (@NASA) May 2, 2021
The SpaceX Crew-1 mission astronauts have been on station since they launched from Florida in November on the Crew Dragon capsule called Resilience. Walker, Glover, Hopkins and Noguchi became the second group of astronauts to experience diving through Earth’s atmosphere in Dragon. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley became the first last August completing the Demo-2 test mission to the ISS and back in Crew Dragon Endeavour.
Behnken and Hurley have described in detail the ride home in Dragon and no doubt shared some pointers with the Crew-1 astronauts.
“It came alive. It started to fire thrusters and keep us pointed in the appropriate direction, the atmosphere starts to make noise, you can hear that rumble outside the vehicle,” Behnken said a few days after arriving home to Houston. “It doesn’t sound like a machine. It sounds like an animal coming through the atmosphere.”
During their journey home the astronauts traveled at speeds up to 17,500 mph around Earth, then using a parachute system slowed the spacecraft from 350 mph to 15 mph as it gently splashdown down in the Gulf.
Stay with ClickOrlando.com/space and News 6 for coverage of the splashdown and recovery.
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