In Pics: SpaceX crew returns to Earth after six-month mission
The third SpaceX long-duration astronaut crew returned safely to Earth on Friday, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico of the coast of Florida, capping months of orbital study on everything from space-grown chilies to robots.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying three US astronaut and a crewmate from European Space Agency, Germany parachuted into the calm seas in the dark after a 23-hour plus autonomous voyage home from the International Space Station (ISS).
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The Endurance crew included Tom Marshburn, 61, an American spaceflight veteran, and three first-time astronauts: NASA’s Raja Chari, 44 and Kayla Barron, 34, and their ESA colleague Matthias Maurer, 52.
A joint NASA-SpaceX webcast broadcast live thermal-camera imagery of the splashdown at 12:45 p.m. EDT (0445). Moments after the splashdown, Chari could be heard radioing mission control.
The heat-scorched Crew Dragon was hauled onto a recovery ship in less than an hour before the capsule’s side hatch was opened and the four astronauts were taken out one by one for the first time in nearly six months.
The newly returned astronauts have been dubbed as NASA’s “Commercial crew 3,” long-duration team of four that SpaceX has carried to the ISS under contract for NASA.
Before being taken back to Florida via helicopter, each astronaut had to have a normal medical examination abroad the ship. The re-entry plummet through Earth’s atmosphere was scorching, generating frictional heat that pushed temperatures outside the capsule rising to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,930 degrees Celsius).
Over the Webcast, applause could be heard from the SpaceX flight control centre in Suburban Los Angeles.
Crew 3 returned to Earth with around 550 pounds (250kg) of cargo, which included ISS research samples.
Barron and Chari went into space to prepare the station for the next in a series of new lightweight roll-out solar arrays, which would eventually be deployed on the proposed gateway outpost orbiting the moon.
Crew 3 has returned to the space station just a week after their replacement team, Crew 4, arrived. Oleg Artemyev, one of three Russian cosmonauts now stationed there, took command of the ISS from Mashburn before the Endurance left early Thursday.