The SpaceX Dragon capsule with four astronauts returned to Earth early Sunday morning (May 2) after splashing down in the ocean off the coast of Florida, successfully completing the company’s first full crewed mission to the International Space Station.
Astronauts on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission splashed down safely in the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City at 2:56 a.m. ET (0656 GMT) when a rescue craft quickly retrieved their Crew Dragon capsule from the sea. The spacecraft landed on target, marking the first night watering of an American crew in 53 years. The last was NASA’s Apollo 8 Moon mission on December 27, 1968.
“Dragon, on behalf of the NASA and SpaceX teams, we welcome you back to planet Earth and thank you for flying to SpaceX. For those of you on our frequent flyer program, you’ve earned 68 million miles. [109 million kilometers] about this voyage, “the SpaceX Crew Operations and Resources Engineer told the Crew-1 astronauts after splashdown.
“It’s good to be back on planet Earth,” replied NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, Crew-1 mission commander. “We will take these miles. Can they be transferred to another person? “
Live updates: SpaceX Crew-1 Astronaut Mission to the Space Station
The capsule left the space station late Saturday evening (May 1) after bad weather at the mission’s main splashdown site twice delayed the crew’s return.
Crew-1 marked SpaceX’s second crewed flight to the space station and the first such flight, which lasted six months. The mission was launched into orbit on November 15.
SpaceX’s first cosmonaut mission, Demo-2 in May 2020, was a two-month test flight that brought two astronauts to the station. Although SpaceX’s third crewed mission has already begun, today’s return marked only the second splashdown of the crewed program. The third voyage, dubbed Crew-2, will not arrive until the end of this year.
From left to right, NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Resilience” spacecraft aboard the SpaceX GO Navigator rescue vehicle shortly after crashing into the water … Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida on May 2, 2021.
SpaceX Crew Dragon’s “Resilience” is pictured aboard the GO Navigator rescue vessel following a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on May 2, 2021.
View of the main parachutes, which opened three minutes before splashdown.
Thew Crew Dragon “Resilience” sways in the Gulf of Mexico as rescue teams head out to retrieve the capsule from the water.
SpaceX Crew Dragon’s “resilience” can be seen from the International Space Station at approximately 2:35 am ET (06:35 GMT) on May 2, 2021, shortly before entering Earth’s atmosphere.
The Crew Dragon successfully ejected its barrel at 1:58 AM ET (05:58 GMT), and in this view from the International Space Station, you can see two separate components.
NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins (front) and Victor Glover (back) are pictured in Crew Dragon Resilience when Crew-1’s mission returns to Earth on May 2, 2021.
The dolphin sails with the SpaceX GO Navigator rescue ship.
A view of the night sky from the bow of the SpaceX GO Navigator rescue vehicle as NASA and SpaceX support teams prepare to land the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Resilience”.
This Crew-1 Dragon capsule, nicknamed Resilience by the astronauts, contained Hopkins and fellow NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, as well as Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
The capsule fell into the Gulf of Mexico south of Panama City, Florida, where it was soon met by SpaceX’s rescue teams, who had to work under cover of darkness.
“The vehicle is certified for day or night landings, so there is no problem with the vehicle itself,” said Steve Stitch, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager, during a direct comment from NASA prior to splashdown. “And we trained with rescue teams to land day and night.”
Connected: SpaceX Crew-1 Astronaut Mission in Photos
Stitch said SpaceX also retrieved the Dragon unmanned cargo ship from the ocean last January. “The SpaceX crew found this car at night, and the Crew and Cargo Dragons are pretty much identical,” he said. “So we’re well prepared for this opportunity.”
The process went smoother than the recovery of the Demo 2 crew in August 2020, when NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken were greeted by a small fleet of private boats. This time, SpaceX and the Coast Guard have improved security procedures to prevent civilians from getting too close to the capsule in the event of a fuel leak.
Crew 1 spent about a week in orbit with its successor, the Crew 2 mission with four astronauts. This team includes NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan MacArthur, JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshaid and ESA astronaut Thomas Peske. The quartet will remain in orbit until fall, when Crew-3’s mission will take to space to take their place.
SpaceX is one of only two commercial companies with NASA contracts to launch astronauts into space. Another company, Boeing, is developing a Starliner crew capsule for NASA missions. The vehicle is expected to make a second uncrewed test flight later this year, but has not yet flown with astronauts.
Meanwhile, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission will be launched in the fall. The company will also send four civilians to Crew Dragon’s private mission, Inspiration4, funded by American billionaire Jared Isaacman. The mission is slated to launch on September 15 on the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft used by the Crew-1 astronauts, but will not visit the International Space Station.
Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@ or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.