The third long-duration astronaut team created by SpaceX to the International Space Station (ISS) safely returned to Earth early on Friday, stowing in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida to end months of orbital research, ranging from space-grown chilies to robots.
At the conclusion of a 23-hour-plus autonomous flight home from the ISS, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, carrying three US NASA astronauts and a European Space Agency (ESA) crewmate from Germany parachuted into dry seas.
A combined NASA-SpaceX webcast carried the splashdown at around 12:45 AM EDT (0445 GMT) and 10:15am IST.
Dragon has safely arrived with precious cargo aboard: four #Crew3 astronauts! Now they wait for the recovery vehicle, which is named after Shannon Walker, a mission specialist for the first crewed @SpaceX mission to the @Space_Station: pic.twitter.com/VDDXdsxkbH
Tom Marshburn, an American spaceflight veteran, and three first-time astronauts, according to NASA''s Raja Chari, 44, and Kayla Barron, 34, and their ESA coworkers. Matthias Maurer, 52.
astronauts were sat in their seats and garbed in helmeted white-and-black space suits after camera shots from the inside the crew compartment.
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Crews would be expected to take splashdown-response around an hour to reach the capsule trapped in the water, hoist it onto the deck of a recovery vessel, and open the hatch to allow the astronauts to breathe fresh air in under six months.
Following a fiery re-entry plunge through Earth''s atmosphere, temperatures outside the capsule increased to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,930 degrees Celsius).
In the final stages of descent, two sets of parachutes were shot above the capsule, lowering their distance to around 15 miles per hour (24 kph) before the craft hit the water off the coast of Tampa, Florida.
A webcast of an infrared photo of the capsule on its final descent revealed applause from the SpaceX flight control center in suburban Los Angeles.
NASA''s "Commercial Crew 3" is the third full-fledged, long-duration team of four astronauts that SpaceX has sent to the space station under contract for the US space agency.
Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla, who recently agreed to buy Twitter, supplies the Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules now flying NASA astronauts to orbit from the United States.
Besides, the airline controls those flights and handles the splashdown recoveries, while NASA prepares crews and launch facilities at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and oversees US space station operations.
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SpaceX, based in California, has launched seven human spaceflights in all of the past two years, including five for NASA and two for private businesses, as well as dozens of cargo and satellite payload missions.
Crew 3 has recovered 550 pounds (250 kg) of cargo, including loads of ISS research reports.
While on orbit about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, the astronauts contributed to hundreds of science experiments and technology demonstrations.
Highlights include study of the genetic expression in cotton cells grown in space, gaseous flame combustion in microgravity, and the DNA sequences of bacteria inside the station. Crew members also tested new robot devices, harvested chili peppers grown in orbit, and conducted experiments in space physics and materials science.
Barron and Chari performed a spacewalk to prepare the station for another in a series of new light-weight roll-out solar arrays, which will be used eventually on the planned Gateway outpost that will orbit the moon.
Crew 3''s return comes a week after they welcomed their new crew, Crew 4, aboard the space station. One of the three Russian cosmonauts who now reside on the station, Oleg Artemyev, took over as ISS from Marshburn in a handover before Endurance was sent off early Thursday.
2022 Thomson Reuters