A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully returned four space station fliers back to Earth after a six-month stay in orbit. The Crew-6 commander Stephen Bowen, pilot Woody Hoburg, cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, and UAE crewmate Sultan Alneyadi undocked from the International Space Station's forward Harmony module at 7:05 a.m. EDT on Sunday. They initiated a 17-hour flight back to Earth, and the Crew Dragon executed a 16-minute de-orbit thruster firing at 11:24 p.m., slowing the spacecraft enough to drop it back into the lower atmosphere. The spacecraft appeared as a slow-motion meteor blazing a brilliant trail across the sky from the Kennedy Space Center's viewpoint. It slowed from its orbital velocity of 17,100 mph to just 300 mph within minutes. The capsule's four main parachutes deployed on time and lowered the spacecraft to a gentle splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida's east coast at 12:17 a.m.
A flight controller from SpaceX's control room welcomed the crew back home and thanked them for flying with SpaceX. The crew expressed their appreciation and looked forward to working with the team again. The overnight landing was a result of various factors related to the space station's orbit and the Crew Dragon's ability to reach a specific target on a specific date considering weather constraints and other factors. SpaceX recovery crews quickly reached the Crew Dragon, ensuring no propellant vapors were present before connecting cables and hauling the spacecraft aboard the recovery ship.
Once aboard the recovery ship, the crew members underwent initial medical checks. They were then flown to shore by helicopter, where a NASA jet was waiting to carry them back to Houston and the Johnson Space Center for debriefing and reunions with friends and family. Left behind in orbit were three Soyuz crew members who are wrapping up a 371-day mission. They originally planned to spend six months in space but had their mission extended due to a major coolant leak on their Soyuz ferry ship last December. A fresh Soyuz crew is scheduled for launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on September 15. They will replace the Crew-6 fliers.
The Crew-6 astronauts spent 185 days and 22 hours off planet, completing 2,976 orbits and traveling 78.9 million miles through space. They welcomed seven visiting vehicles, including cargo spacecraft and piloted Crew Dragons, and carried out three spacewalks. The crew members expressed their gratitude for the incredible experience and the opportunity to live and work aboard the International Space Station.
themes: Houston NASA SpaceX Florida Texas