‘It’s great to be back:’ SpaceX delivers 4 astronauts home to Earth with splashdown by moonlight

Dragon Resilience landed near Panama City at 2:57 a.m. with Crew-1 astronauts

PANAMA CITY, Fla. – Plunging through the Earth’s atmosphere and splashing down by moonlight, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft successfully returned three American and one Japanese astronaut to Earth following six months in space.

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 four astronauts make up Crew-1, the first long-duration mission to the International Space Station with SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

The Dragon spacecraft called Resilience blasted through Earth’s atmosphere after 2 a.m. ET, then aided by a parachute system the spacecraft slowed from 350 mph to 15 mph to gently drop into the Gulf of Mexico where recovery teams were waiting. The astronauts experienced over 4 Gs upon re-entry.

“We welcome you back to Earth. Thanks for flying SpaceX for those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer program you’ve earned 68,000 million miles,” SpaceX mission said.

“SpaceX, it’s great to be back on planet Earth and we’ll take those miles,” Crew-1 commander Mike Hopkins responded. “Are they transferable?”

Recovery boats quickly arrived at the spaceship to secure the charred capsule 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.

Hopkins thanked their commercial transportation prior to exiting the capsule, telling SpaceX, “I would just like to say, quite frankly, y’all are changing the world. Congratulations. It’s great to be back.”

He was the first one out of the spacecraft and did a little dance after stepping out of the capsule. Glover, Walker and Noguchi followed next. After a checkup with the flight doctor, the astronauts were then flown back to land before catching a NASA jet to Houston where their families were waiting.

Bill Spetch, manager of the NASA International Space Station Transportation Integration Office, and NASA astronaut representative Joe Acaba watch a dolphin swim next to a ship Saturday, May 1, 2021, as NASA and SpaceX teams prepared for the splashdown of the SpaceX capsule in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Fla., Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP) ((NASA/Bill Ingalls) For copyright and restrictions refer to - http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/guidelines/index.html)

The astronaut homecoming marked the first time in more than 50 years a capsule was 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.

Twice delayed due to weather around the landing zone, the astronauts had a few more days on space station to spend with the seven other crew members, including the four Crew-2 astronauts who arrived last week also in a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

Glover celebrated his birthday in space Friday, complete with music provided by European Space Agency Astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who had a saxophone waiting for him on ISS. Noguichi was also holding a key board in the photo he shared on Twitter.

“Best space birthday ever! Being in space with this crew is truly a gift. You guys rock, literally!” Glover tweeted.

After arriving in November, becoming the second group of astronauts to launch via SpaceX the Crew-1 astronauts spent 167 days in space, took part in five spacewalks and hundreds of experiments in low-gravity.

Dragon Resilience will return to Cape Canaveral for refurbishment and then fly again in September for SpaceX’s first private crew mission.

Tech billionaire Jared Isaacman has purchased the first private flight from SpaceX, which will orbit the Earth for three days. He’ll fly with a pair of contest winners -- Sian Proctor, a community college educator from Arizona, and Chris Sembroski, a former Air Force missileman -- along with Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a physician assistant from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, left, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, right are seen inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft onboard the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship shortly after having landed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, Sunday, May 2, 2021. NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission was the first crew rotation flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket with astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. ((NASA/Bill Ingalls)\r\rFor copyright and restrictions refer to -�http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/guidelines/index.html)

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