ORLANDO, Fla. — The first six-month rotation of an International Space Station crew to be carried up and returned to Earth by commercial partner SpaceX ended in the early morning hours Sunday.
The Crew-1 team of NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and, Shannon Walker plus Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, left on board the Crew Dragon capsule named Resilience late Saturday from the station for its 6 ½-hour trip ending with a 2:56 a.m. splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida near Panama City.
“On behalf of the NASA and SpaceX teams, we welcome you back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX,” said a SpaceX commentator after splashdown. “For those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer program, you’ve earned 68 million miles on this voyage.”
“We’ll take those miles,” responded commander Hopkins. “Are they transferable?”
Mission Control replied that the astronauts would have to check with SpaceX’s marketing department about that.
The capsule hit its target within a minute of the planned touchdown. Responding ships were on hand surrounding the capsule with SpaceX recovery vessel Go Navigator on hand soon after to hoist it out of the water.
The hatch opened about 45 minutes after splashdown after Hopkins thanked the SpaceX team for a safe landing.
“It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together,” he said. “Finally I’d just like to say, quite frankly, ya’ll are changing the world. It’s great to be back.”
The four astronauts left the capsule and were taken for additional medical checks. They were placed on stretchers, which is normal for those returning to Earth’s gravity after long periods in space. The quartet were flown by helicopter to Panama City and were headed to Johnson Space Center for a reunion with their families.
“Re-rentry’s hard, and the spacecraft was in beautiful condition, but you just worry as you as you go through the six minutes of com blackout,” said Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s human space exploration directorate, at a press conference later Sunday. “It was so great to hear Mike’s voice and then see those drogues and the mains deploy so wonderfully and the vehicle just come softly down and back to Earth.”