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SpaceX Dragon splashes down in the Gulf of Mexico, bringing 4 astronauts home to Earth

Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

Video of the landing showed just a few boats surrounding the capsule as it landed on the calm surface of the Gulf, unlike the crowd of civilian boats that loitered around the landing of Demo-2 in August.

“We had a couple lessons learned from the Demo-2 mission,” said NASA’s Commercial Crew program manager Steve Stich. “Last time you may remember we had some boats in the area. Today, the United States Coast Guard had several assets on scene and patrolled that area. We had no leisure boats within the ellipse that we cleared for landing. So that was much, much better than last time.”

Stich said NASA was able to recover the two drogue and four main parachutes as well. The turnaround to pick up the vessel from the water, and get the astronauts out of the capsule went much faster than Demo-2. NASA and SpaceX officials credited the continued practice from the recovery teams and the calm weather that comes with a night landing.

“It looked more like a race car pit stop than anything else. Everybody was at the right spot and did the right things,” said Space’x senior advisor Hans Koenigsmann. “Everything came together and resulted in these record-breaking times.”

The crew got into the vehicle Saturday evening to leave behind seven other members of the ISS expedition, leaving about four days later that originally planned because of weather-related delays.

The return comes 168 days in space for the four-person crew, the longest ever for a crew of a U.S. spacecraft, doubling the 84 days in space by the Skylab 4 crew of 1974.

The mission lifted off from KSC’s Launch Pad 39A atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Nov. 15, 2020.

Glover became the first Black person to serve for an extended expedition on the ISS. On Saturday, Glover commented on the commitment by NASA to include among the Artemis missions in the next decade a person of color to walk on the lunar surface.

 

“What I think it says is that the administration, the agency is doing what it can to continue to explore space, to do it safely, to do it effectively but also to do it inclusively in a way that represents the best and brightest of America,” he said.

For Glover, whose nickname Ike stands for “I know everything,” the mission was his first in space while Hopkins and Walker had both previously served on the ISS and Noguchi had flown on the space shuttle and served on the ISS on two previous spaceflights.

“As the only first-time flyer of the group, every single thing we’ve done up here has been the first time I’ve been able to do that,” Glover said. “One thing, the very first time I got out of the seat, after Resilience was safely in orbit and I looked out the window and saw the Earth from 250 miles up, I will never forget that moment.”

The four from Crew-1 were joined on the ISS last Saturday by four passengers of the Crew-2 mission, which flew up to the station on board the SpaceX Crew Dragon named Endeavour. It was the first time two commercial crew capsules had been at the station at the same time.

The 11 people on the station at the same time isn’t the most ever for the ISS, which has on several occasions during the space shuttle era reached a population of 13. The station has only seven permanent sleeping quarters on board, though, but Hopkins spent the entirety of his six-month stay sleeping in the Crew Dragon. The departure of Crew-1 brings the ISS population back down to seven.

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(Orlando Sentinel staff writer Caroline Glenn contributed to this report.)

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