Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) yesterday safely returned four astronauts from the International Space Station — the first US crew splashdown in darkness since the Apollo 8 moonshot.
The Dragon capsule parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, just before 3am, ending the second astronaut flight for billionaire Elon Musk’s company.
It was an express trip home, lasting just six-and-a-half hours.
Photo: EPA-EFE / Bill Ingalls / NASA
The astronauts, three Americans and one Japanese, flew back in the same capsule — named Resilience — in which they launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in November last year.
“We welcome you back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX,” SpaceX’s Mission Control radioed moments 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,” spacecraft commander Mike Hopkins said. “Are they transferrable?” SpaceX replied that the astronauts would have to check with the company’s marketing department.
Within a half-hour of splashdown, the charred capsule — resembling a giant toasted marshmallow — had been hoisted onto the recovery ship, which was equipped with bright spotlights.
The 167-day mission was the longest for a crew capsule launched from the US. The previous record of 84 days was set by NASA’s final Skylab station astronauts in 1974.
Saturday night’s undocking left seven people at the space station, four of whom arrived a week earlier via SpaceX.
“Earthbound!” NASA astronaut Victor Glover, the capsule’s pilot, wrote on Twitter after departing the station. “One step closer to family and home!”
Hopkins and Glover — along with NASA’s Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi — should have returned to Earth on April 21, but high offshore winds forced SpaceX to pass up a pair of daytime landing attempts.
Managers switched to a rare splashdown in darkness, to take advantage of calm weather.
SpaceX had practiced for a nighttime return, just in case, and even recovered its most recent station cargo capsule from the Gulf of Mexico in darkness.
Infrared cameras tracked the capsule as it re-entered the atmosphere; it resembled a bright star streaking through the night sky.
All four main parachutes could be seen deploying just before splashdown, which was also visible in the infrared.
Despite the early hour, the coast guard was out in full force to enforce an 18km keep-out zone around the bobbing Dragon capsule. For SpaceX’s first crew return in August, pleasure boaters swarmed the capsule, a safety risk.
Once out of the capsule, the astronauts planned to hop on a helicopter for the short flight to shore, then catch a plane straight to Houston for a reunion with their families.
A long line of people on Sunday snaked across the sand of Miami Beach, Florida, as dozens of travelers from Latin America waited their turn at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination booth. Sweating under the afternoon sun, visitors checked into an online system — no proof of residence required — and soon after received a free, single-dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a vaccination card. People had come from all over Latin America — Ecuador, El Salvador, Venezuela — where the vaccine rollout has been slow and hampered by supply shortages. “In my country, [COVID-19] is getting out of hand and there’s
A man was left stranded on a glass-bottomed suspension bridge in northeastern China after sudden gale-force winds shattered the transparent panels around him. The man was on the 100m-high bridge at Piyan Mountain in Longjing city, when it was hit by sudden strong weather, the local tourism department said. TRAPPED Gusts of up to 150kph blew out several glass panels, trapping the tourist until he could be rescued by firefighters, police, and forestry and tourism personnel more than half an hour later. Photographs shared on social media showed the man clinging to the side of the bridge, surrounded by gaping holes where the
US actress Scarlett Johansson on Saturday urged the film industry to “step back” from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) as criticism of the opaque film industry group, which controls the Golden Globe awards, continues to mount for sexism and racism. The Avengers star said in a statement that the “HFPA is an organization that was legitimized by the likes of Harvey Weinstein to amass momentum for Academy recognition.” Johansson said that “as an actor promoting a film,” participating in the organization’s news conferences and award shows “has often meant facing sexist questions and remarks by certain HFPA members that bordered on
‘COVERT’ ACTIVITY: The High Court ruled against a Chinese-born Australian former adviser to a state lawmaker, who allegedly advanced ‘policy goals of a foreign principal’ A Chinese-born Australian political adviser yesterday lost his challenge in Australia’s highest court against laws banning covert foreign interference in domestic politics. John Zhang (張智森) also lost his Australian High Court challenge in a unanimous decision of seven judges to the validity of search warrants executed by police at his Sydney home and offices last year as part of an investigation into illegal foreign interference on behalf of China. Zhang was an adviser to New South Wales Lawmaker Shaoquett Moselmane, whose membership in the opposition Labor Party was suspended after he was also the target of police raids. The raids in June last