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SpaceX returns 4 astronauts to Earth with rare night splashdown

SpaceX Astronauts Return
Posted at 4:00 AM, May 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-02 07:08:13-04

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — SpaceX has delivered four astronauts back to Earth, making the first U.S. crew splashdown in darkness since the Apollo 8 moonshot in 1968.

The Dragon capsule parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico near the Florida Panhandle early Sunday, just 6 1/2 hours after departing the International Space Station.

The astronauts, three American and one Japanese, spent nearly six months at the orbiting lab. They flew back in the same capsule in which they launched from Florida in November.

SpaceX delayed their homecoming four days because of high offshore wind. Managers switched to a predawn splashdown to take advantage of calm weather.

The return of the astronauts marks the completion of NASA’s first commercial crew, long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station.

Overall, the astronauts traveled 71,242,199 statute miles during their 168 days in orbit (with 167 days aboard the space station), completing 2,688 orbits around Earth. With splashdown, the crew also broke the American crewed spacecraft mission duration record of 84 days, 1 hour, 15 minutes, set by the final Skylab crew in 1974.

After returning to shore, the astronauts will fly back to Houston.

“Welcome home Victor, Michael, Shannon, and Soichi, and congratulations to the teams at NASA and SpaceX who worked so hard to ensure their safe and successful splashdown,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, who was confirmed by the Senate to serve as NASA Administrator on April 29. “We’ve accomplished another incredible spaceflight for America and our commercial and international partners. Safe, reliable transportation to the International Space Station is exactly the vision that NASA had when the agency embarked on the commercial crew program.”