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SpaceX Dragon capsule with International Space Station astronauts lands safely on Earth

The astronauts spent more than five months in space, the longest-ever duration for a crew launched in an American-built spacecraft.
From left: NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins, and JAXA astronauts Soichi Noguchi inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule ‘Resilience’ after splashdown on May 2, 2021. Photo credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying four astronauts returned to Earth creating history after a 53-year hiatus as the last such mission from NASA was undertaken in December 1968.

The capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico off Panama City after a six-and-a-half-hour flight from the ISS as night-vision images relayed by NASA’s WB-57 high-altitude research aircraft showed.

The capsule left the space station on late 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 its first such flight to last for six months. The mission launched into orbit on November 15. 

SpaceX’s first astronaut mission, Demo-2 in May 2020, was a two-month test flight that carried two astronauts to the station. Although SpaceX’s third crewed mission has launched already, today’s return marked only the second crewed splashdown for the program. That third flight, called Crew-2, won’t splash down until later this year.

This Crew-1 Dragon capsule, which astronauts nicknamed Resilience, carried Hopkins and his fellow NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, as well as Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

The Crew-1 astronauts were recovered by SpaceX within about 30 minutes. Soon after, they boarded helicopters for the mainland en route to Houston, home of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. 

Crew-1 overlapped for about a week in orbit with its successor, the four-astronaut Crew-2 mission. That crew includes NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet. The quartet will remain in orbit until the fall, when the Crew-3 mission will head to space to take their place.

SpaceX is one of two commercial companies with NASA contracts to fly astronauts in space. The other company, Boeing, is developing its Starliner crew capsule for NASA missions. That vehicle is expected to fly on a second uncrewed test flight later this year but has not yet flown astronauts.