Recovery crews make their way to Crew Dragon Endurance shortly after the capsule fell into the Gulf of Mexico early Friday to complete the 176-day mission.

NASA / SpaceX

In a day docking from the International Space Stationfour astronauts dived to Earth aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule early Friday, rushing through southern Mexico to complete a six-month mission in the Gulf of Mexico west of Tampa.

Crew-3 commanders Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn watched the automated descent, Crew Dragon “Endurance” launched its brake engines for nearly eight minutes, starting at 23:53 EDT, slowing the spacecraft by about 120 miles per hour to get out of orbit.

After a 38-minute free fall, the capsule crashed into a notable atmosphere at nearly 5 miles per second, rising high above southern Mexico and over the Persian Gulf along a trajectory from southwest to northeast, rapidly slowing in a fire of atmospheric friction.

Eight minutes later, just in time, the four main Crew Dragon parachutes unfolded and fully inflated, and at 00:43 a.m. the capsule sank to a smooth dive to complete the first voyage.

Commander Raja Chari smiles and waves to support the crews after aid from the Crew Dragon spacecraft. All four astronauts were in good spirits and apparently in good health when, after six months in space, the process of re-adapting to gravity began.

NASA / SpaceX

“Thank you for allowing us to take Endurance on a cruise,” Chary told radio dispatchers. “I look forward to watching many more Endurance flights in the future. It was a great trip. I enjoyed working with NASA and SpaceX teams. Thank you for taking us safely to the space station and back.”

A moment later he joked, “Only one complaint. These water bottles are very heavy!”

SpaceX crews stationed nearby on high-speed evacuation boats quickly ran up to the capsule, which gently rocked to check the crew, while the company’s ship drove up to pull Crew Dragon on board.

Charm, Marshburn, the submarine who became an astronaut, Kayla Baron, and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer were carried one by one on a stretcher, the standard procedure for returning crews to Earth and the awkward weightlifting after six months in weightlessness.

Crew Dragon astronauts smile and wave when a SpaceX technician opens the capsule hatch to help them get out of the spacecraft after falling into the Gulf of Mexico. From left to right: European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer and NASA crew members Thomas Marshburn, Commander Raja Chari and Kyle Baron.


All four looked in good shape, smiling and waving to the ship’s crew as they were carried inside for initial medical examinations. SpaceX was expected to deliver them ashore by helicopter later in the morning to return to Houston and Johnson Space Center aboard a NASA plane.

“I think we are all looking forward to seeing our loved ones, our family and friends on earth who have played an important role in supporting us throughout our lives and bringing us to this point,” Barron said, making her first flight during orbital press conference last month.

“And then, of course, we start thinking about different things we might want to eat and drink when we get home.”

Their replacements remain in orbit – crew commander Kiel Lindgren, pilot Bob Hines, Jessica Watkins and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti – and three Russian astronauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergei Korsakov.

Infrared view of the Crew Dragon “Endurance,” splashing in the Gulf of Mexico west of Tampa, Florida, at 12:43 a.m. on EDT.


Lindgren and his crew arrived at the space station last Wednesday, enjoying a week-long “live broadcast” with their crew-3 colleagues, who showed them the intricacies of the station’s work before docking on Thursday to begin the 23rd-a-half-hour travel to Earth.

On Friday, Chary and company spent 176 days, two hours and 40 minutes since launching from the Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 10 last year, making 2,832 full orbits spanning 75 million miles.

During the mission, Marshburn, a veteran of three flights, and Mauer participated in one spacewalk, while Barron and Charm made two. Eight spacecraft arrived at the station during their stay, and seven took off, including Crew Dragon, which was transporting the first fully commercial crew to the lab complex last month.

“We had a lot of fun showing them how to live and work on the space station,” Marshburn said earlier. “They were great companions to the crew, they were also very kind and polite to us. So it was a wonderful week.”

But returning home was top on the crew’s agenda on Friday.

“I can’t wait to see my wife and kids hugging them all,” Chary said. “I have goosebumps at the mere thought of this moment. Just seeing pictures of my children as far as they have grown in the six months since they were younger is amazing and makes you realize how much you missed.”


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