SpaceX safely returns 4 astronauts to Earth with rare splashdown in darkness

This was the 1st US splashdown in darkness since Apollo 8′s crew returned from the moon in 1968

SpaceX safely returned four astronauts from the International Space Station early Sunday morning: the capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico.

SpaceX Crew-1 is safely back on Earth.

The Dragon capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City just before 3 a.m. Sunday, ending the second astronaut flight for Elon Musk’s company.

It was an express trip home for the four astronauts, lasting just 6 ½ hours.

The four astronauts, three American and one Japanese, will make their way back to Houston after spending six months on the International Space Station.

This is the first nighttime splashdown of a U.S. spacecraft with a crew on board since Apollo 8′s return in 1968.

The 167-day mission was the longest for a crew capsule launching from the U.S. The previous record was set in 1974 with 84 days in space.

The team launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in November.

The four astronauts undocked from the International Space Station Saturday night.

All four main parachutes could be seen deploying just before splashdown, traveling 16 mph. After splashdown, the capsule, named Resilience, looked like a massive toasted marshmallow. Outside temperatures reach over 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit during reentry.

Mission Control radioed moments after the splashdown, “On behalf of NASA and SpaceX teams, we welcome you back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX. For those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer program, you’ve earned 68 million miles on this voyage.”

Spacecraft Commander Mike Hopkins replied, “We’ll take those miles Are they transferrable?”

SpaceX Crew 1's capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico early this morning returning the crew safely to to Earth.

Hopkins is grateful to be back.

“On behalf of Crew-1 and our families, we just want to say thank you for this amazing vehicle. I’ve said it and I’ll say it again, it’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together. Finally, I would like to say y’all are changing the world. Congratulations. It’s great to be back,” Hopkins said.

The Coast Guard was out in full force to enforce a 10-mile keep-out zone around the capsule. This was a problem last August when the first two SpaceX astronauts returned to Earth. Boaters got too close and swarmed the capsule.

Within a half-hour of splashdown, the capsule had been hoisted onto the recovery ship. The capsule will head back to Cape Canaveral for refurbishment for SpaceX’s first private crew mission in September.

Saturday night’s undocking left seven people at the International Space Station. Four arrived a week ago via SpaceX.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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