A SpaceX capsule that brought four astronauts to earth after six busy months on the International Space Station landed off the coast of Florida on Monday, a live broadcast by NASA showed.
Braked by the earth’s atmosphere and four huge parachutes, the Dragon capsule was able to withstand the dizzying descent thanks to its heat shield.
It landed in the Gulf of Mexico at 10:33 PM Eastern Time (9:03 AM IST Tuesday), marking the end of the Crew 2 mission.
A boat picks up the capsule and the astronauts on board are brought back on land by helicopter.
Since arriving on April 24, the crew of two Americans, a French and a Japanese astronaut have conducted hundreds of experiments and helped modernize the station’s solar panels.
They boarded their Dragon named “Endeavor” and cast off from the ISS at 2:05 pm (12:35 pm IST), NASA announced.
Endeavor then circled the ISS for about an hour and a half to take photos, the first mission of its kind since a Russian Soyuz spacecraft performed a similar maneuver in 2018.
The mostly autonomous kite has a small circular window at the top of the forward hatch through which the astronauts can direct their cameras.
“Proud to have represented France in space once again! Next stop, the moon?” tweeted Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency (ESA).
Her activities included documenting the surface of the planet to record human-made changes and natural events, growing hatch chili peppers, and studying worms to better understand human health changes in space.
The departure of Crew-2 was delayed by one day due to strong winds.
Bad weather and what NASA called a “minor medical problem” have also postponed the start of the next group of astronauts on the Crew 3 mission, which is now due to start on Wednesday.
Until then, the ISS will only be inhabited by three astronauts – two Russians and one American.
SpaceX began offering astronauts taxi service to the ISS in 2020, ending US reliance on Russian rockets for travel after the end of the space shuttle program for nine years.
On the journey home, the crew also faced one final challenge: they had to wear diapers after a problem with the capsule’s waste management system was discovered that caused it to remain offline.
From the hatch closing at 12:40 p.m. (11:40 a.m. Tuesday) until after the spraying – about 10 hours – they had no access to a toilet.
“Of course that’s suboptimal, but we’re prepared for it,” said NASA astronaut Megan McArthur at a press conference prior to departure.
“Space is full of little challenges, that’s just another one that we will encounter and deal with on our mission.”
A tourist-only SpaceX crew encountered a similar litter problem during a flight in September that triggered an alarm system.
NASA later said a tube had come loose, directing urine to the capsule’s ventilation system instead of a storage tank.