May 25, 2024
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A crew of four astronauts successfully returned to Earth this evening, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola inside a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. Their arrival back on the planet brings an end to a more than six-month-long stay aboard the International Space Station, and it paves the way for another crew of four to launch to the ISS in the coming week.

The crew includes two NASA astronauts, Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency. The group launched to the space station on April 23rd atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, part of a mission called Crew-2.

“On behalf of SpaceX, welcome home to planet Earth,” a SpaceX flight controller declared when the crew splashed down. SpaceX personnel on a recovery ship will now hoist the Crew Dragon out of the water and help the crew leave the vehicle.

Their flight marks the third time that SpaceX has launched people to the International Space Station and then safely brought them home. Such trips are part of SpaceX’s contract with NASA through the space agency’s Commercial Crew Program, an initiative that tasks private companies with ferrying NASA’s astronauts and international partners to and from the ISS.

SpaceX launched its first crew of two to the station in May 2020, part of a test flight to prove the safety of its Crew Dragon capsule, designed to launch on top of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. That flight was followed by SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission in November 2020, which sent a crew of four to the ISS for a six-month rotation.

However, there’s still a NASA astronaut on board the ISS to help ease the Crew-3 astronauts transition. Mark Vande Hei launched to the station on a Russian Soyuz rocket in April and won’t come home until March 2022, marking a nearly year-long stay in orbit.

“His presence on board definitely helped us and helped me feel more comfortable in the decision to land first before we launch”, Joel Montalbano, manager of the International Space Station at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said in a press briefing.

The Crew-2 astronauts undocked from the space station at 2:05PM ET today. When the astronauts first got inside their vehicle, one of the touch screens needed a reboot, but the trouble didn’t seem to impact the flight. After they left the station, they spent a few hours flying around the ISS in a circular pattern. It was an intentional maneuver, allowing the astronauts to get pictures of the ISS from different vantage points that aren’t normally seen. Once that fly-around was complete, the Crew Dragon began drifting away from the station, putting it on its course back to Earth.

While on board the ISS, the Crew-2 astronauts performed more than 300 experiments, one of which involved growing Hatch chile peppers in orbit.

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