The astronauts witnessed the Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience detach from the International Space Station at 8:35 p.m. EDT Saturday and make its way to an overnight splashdown off the coast of Florida about 6 1/2 hours later.
The astronauts were scheduled to return to Houston.
“Welcome home Victor, Michael, Shannon, and Soichi, and congratulations to the teams at NASA and SpaceX who worked so hard to ensure their safe and successful splashdown,” said former Sen. Bill Nelson, also a former astronaut confirmed by the Senate to serve as NASA administrator on Thursday. “We’ve accomplished another incredible spaceflight for America and our commercial and international partners. Safe, reliable transportation to the International Space Station is exactly the vision that NASA had when the agency embarked on the commercial crew program.”
During their 168 days in orbit, including 167 days aboard the space station, the four Astronauts travelled 71,242,199 statute miles. In addition, the crew shattered the American crewed spacecraft mission length record of 84 days, 1 hour, 15 minutes, set by the final Skylab crew in February 1974.
The spacecraft’s thrusters conducted a 16-minute burn just before 2 a.m. EDT to slow the spacecraft, remove it from orbit, and guide the astronauts to their prefered landing site. Clear skies and light winds of around 2 knots were deemed ideal for the splashdown.
The capsule was flying at 16,500 mph when it entered orbit, and it gradually slowed to only 16 mph with the help of parachutes when it reached the ocean.
The splashdown was the first night return of a US crewed capsule since Apollo 8’s predawn landing in the Pacific Ocean with NASA astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders on December 27, 1968.
According to NASA, the Crew Dragon autonomously undocked and left the space station, with the capability of splashing down in one of seven predetermined landing zones.
The primary locations selected on Friday were in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Fla., followed by a location near Tampa, Fla.
The astronauts brought “important and time-sensitive research.” according to the space agency.
The capsule flew robotically, as planned, said crew commander Mike Hopkins during a news conference from the space station on Monday.
“Your landings are always fairly dynamic, particularly with the capsules like this, particularly when the chutes are opening, so that’s always a little bit exciting,” Hopkins said.
The Crew-1 flight was only the second crewed launch for SpaceX and NASA’s commercial crew programme, and it was the first time four people flew in a space capsule.
The best part of the trip, according to Noguchi, was meeting the Crew-2 astronauts as they arrived at the space station on Saturday morning. For the first time in years, the arrival increased the space station’s population to 11 for a brief period of time.
The Crew-1 flight was launched from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on November 15, before vaccines for the COVID-19 pandemic became available. The astronauts stated that the crew members would be vaccinated in the coming weeks.