The SpaceX Crew Dragon achieved a precise splashdown upon return to Earthwith a gentle splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, to the east of Jacksonville, marking the end of their six-month mission in space. These astronauts, part of the joint NASA and SpaceX Crew-6 mission, bid farewell to the space station at 7:05 am ET on Sunday.
They spent the day aboard the 13-foot-wide Crew Dragon spacecraft as it skillfully navigated through Earth's orbit, ultimately reaching its designated landing site off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, where they safely touched down after midnight ET.
During the final phase of its descent, the Crew Dragon capsule was hurtling through space at a staggering speed of over 17,000 miles per hour (27,000 kilometers per hour). As it re-entered Earth's atmosphere, the exterior of the spacecraft endured temperatures reaching approximately 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,900 degrees Celsius). However, the astronauts inside the capsule remained well-protected, thanks to a robust heat shield, ensuring that the cabin's temperature remained comfortably below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius).
Following re-entry, the capsule initiated a sequence to deploy a series of parachutes, a critical step in slowing down its descent. Nearby rescue crews were on standby near the designated splashdown site, fully prepared to recover the spacecraft from the ocean and transport it onto a specialized vessel known as the "Dragon's Nest." Comprehensive safety checks will be conducted before the crew can safely disembark.
Before the astronauts departed from the space station, NASA closely monitored the impact of Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall on Florida's Gulf Coast earlier that Wednesday morning. The storm had battered northern Florida before continuing its path through southern Georgia and into the Carolinas.
The fiery re-entry of the Dragon capsule bringing Crew 6 back to Earth
The Crew-6 team consists of four astronauts: NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren "Woody" Hoburg, Sultan Alneyadi, the second astronaut from the United Arab Emirates to journey into space, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.
"On behalf of NASA and SpaceX, welcome back home," SpaceX radioed from the California rocket builder’s control center. "Thank you for flying SpaceX."
We greatly appreciate all the support, from all the initial training, to the launch, throughout the mission … this has been incredible. We certainly appreciate it and look forward to working with you all again.- Stephen Bowen
Having embarked on their mission in March, the Crew-6 team spent an impressive six-month duration aboard the International Space Station. In the past week, they diligently facilitated the transition of responsibilities and operations to the incoming Crew-7 team members, who safely arrived at the space station on August 27. Throughout their extended stay in space, the Crew-6 astronauts played a pivotal role in overseeing a comprehensive array of over 200 scientific and technological projects.
"We got a lot done during our mission," Hoburg said during a remote news conference with the astronauts on August 23. "We had two visiting SpaceX cargo vehicles - the CRS-27 and 28 missions with lots of science on board. And we, as a crew, conducted a total of three spacewalks."
Throughout their mission, the Crew-6 astronauts had the unique opportunity to accommodate the Axiom Mission 2 crew. This group comprised a former NASA astronaut and three paying customers, including an American entrepreneur and two astronauts from Saudi Arabia.
This mission was a pivotal step in a larger initiative to make regular space travel to the International Space Station accessible to tourists and commercial customers. NASA has been actively promoting and encouraging increased commercial activities in the low-Earth orbit region as part of its strategic goals.
"It’s been a big adventure and a lot of fun," Hoburg added.
Remaining in orbit were three Soyuz crew members: station commander Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitri Petelin, and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio. Also continuing their mission in space were the four Crew Dragon astronauts launched on August 26 to replace Bowen and his team. This new Crew-7 lineup consisted of commander Jasmin Moghbeli, European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa, and cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov.
Prokopyev, Petelin, and Rubio originally embarked on their mission last September with a planned six-month duration. However, their mission took an unexpected turn when their Soyuz ferry ship encountered a significant coolant leak in December.
As a result, the Russian space agency chose to send a replacement spacecraft, and the crew's mission was extended for an additional six months. Consequently, they are now concluding a remarkable 371-day journey in space.