A SpaceX capsule with four astronauts returning from the International Space Station crashed safely in the Gulf of Mexico early Sunday, NASA’s first night-time return to Earth in decades.
The Crew Dragon Resilience, manufactured by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Elon Musk, made a “smooth” dive four minutes before 3 a.m. Sunday, and shortly thereafter was transported to a salvage vessel off Panama City, Fla. It marked the end of 168 days in space for the four astronauts, and the end of SpaceX’s first operational round-trip mission.
Late last year, a SpaceX rocket propelled the capsule carrying National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency into orbit. The capsule then docked with the ISS.
Sunday’s return to earth was the first nighttime splashdown for NASA astronauts since Apollo 8, which was the first mission to orbit the moon, in 1968.
The splashdown was the latest in a series of milestones for SpaceX and NASA, as both fall into what they have described as an “operational cadence.” The partners have now regularly scheduled human shuttles to and from space using the company’s rockets and capsules.
Last month, a SpaceX rocket sent another manned capsule into orbit, where it docked with the ISS. Its crew of four are currently on the space station at the start of their mission there.
In November, SpaceX announced plans to launch seven capsules for NASA, including three cargo variants, over the next 15 months. The next human mission is expected to take place in the fall, sending another team of astronauts on a separate six-month stay on the space station.
Write to Chip Cummins at [email protected]
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Appeared in the May 3, 2021 print edition as “NASA Crew Bring Home SpaceX Safe Capsule.”