Four astronauts have returned home from a six-month stay on the International Space Station, making a splashdown landing aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule off the coast of Florida on Monday.
The astronauts, members of the Crew-6 mission run jointly by NASA and SpaceX, departed the space station on Sunday at 7:05 am ET. The crew spent the day aboard the 13-foot-wide Crew Dragon vehicle as it maneuvered through Earth’s orbit and toward its target landing site off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, where they landed after midnight ET.
The Crew Dragon capsule was traveling at more than 17,000 miles per hour (27,000 kilometers per hour), and as it began the final leg of its descent, the spacecraft’s exterior heated up to about 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,900 degrees Celsius) while it sliced back into the thickest part of Earth’s atmosphere. Inside the spacecraft cabin, the passengers were protected by a heat shield and the temperature should’ve stayed at comfortable temperatures well below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius).
The capsule then deployed sets of parachutes to further slow its descent. Rescue crews waiting near the splash down site are prepared to haul the spacecraft out of the ocean and onto a special boat, called the “Dragon’s nest,” where final safety checks will take place before the crew can disembark.
Before the astronauts left the space station, NASA said that it had been monitoring the impact of Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall Wednesday morning on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The storm pummeled northern Florida before tearing through southern Georgia and into the Carolinas.
The four astronauts that make up the Crew-6 team include NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, as well as Sultan Alneyadi, the second astronaut from the United Arab Emirates to travel to space, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.
The group spent six months on board the orbiting laboratory after launching to the station in March. Over the past week, the Crew-6 astronauts worked to welcome and hand over operations to Crew-7 team members, who arrived at the space station on August 27.
During their stint in space, the Crew-6 astronauts were slated to oversee more than 200 science and tech projects.
“We got a lot done during our mission,” Hoburg said during a remote news conference with the astronauts on August 23. “We had two visiting SpaceX cargo vehicles — the CRS-27 and 28 missions with lots of science on board. And we, as a crew, conducted a total of three spacewalks.”
During their stay, the Crew-6 astronauts also hosted the Axiom Mission 2 crew, a group of one former NASA astronaut and three paying customers that included an American businessman and two astronauts from Saudi Arabia. That flight was part of a plan to fly tourists and other paying customers regularly to the International Space Station, as NASA has sought to increase the amount of commercial activity in low-Earth orbit.
“It’s been a big adventure and a lot of fun,” Hoburg added.