May 26, 2024

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Crew Dragon astronauts return to Earth, closing in on an action-packed 157-day mission

Crew Dragon astronauts return to Earth, closing in on an action-packed 157-day mission

Two NASA astronauts, a Japanese astronaut and a Russian astronaut, bid farewell to their seven space station crewmates and returned to Earth Saturday night, crash-landing in the Gulf of Mexico near Tampa, Florida, after a fiery plunge back through the lower atmosphere.

Passing through space at 84 football fields per second — 17,100 miles per hour — Commander Nicole Mann and pilot Josh Cassada watched for an 11-minute automatic firing of the ship’s brake missiles starting at 8:11 p.m. EST, setting the capsule on course to turn around again. Gulf.

Twenty-eight minutes later, the SpaceX Crew Dragon plunged back into the distinct atmosphere, its heat shield enduring temperatures of up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit as the vehicle rapidly decelerated in a dazzling fireball of atmospheric friction; A meteor-like trail of fire stretched behind it.

The Crew-5 Dragon Endurance fell within a few hundred yards of the SpaceX recovery crews after a fiery drop visible for hundreds of miles around. Splashdown near Tampa, Florida, has concluded a space station mission that has spanned 157 days and 10 hours since its launch last October.


The capsule’s main parachutes released and inflated at about 6,500 feet, slowing the capsule to 16 miles per hour for the last three and a half minutes of flight. Splashdown came just in time at 9:02 PM EST.

“Dragon Endurance, on behalf of SpaceX, welcome home,” Michael Blasco, Mission Control Officer at SpaceX.

“Thank you, SpaceX, that was one flight!” Mann, a veteran F-18 fighter pilot, answered. “We are happy to be back home, and we look forward to next time.”

A camera aboard SpaceX’s Shannon rescue vessel captures dramatic footage of the Crew Dragon capsule ablaze with friction as it descends into the splashdown.


SpaceX crews stationed nearby quickly converged on the spacecraft in order to “secure” it and transport it aboard the company’s rescue ship. Once on deck, the hatch was opened and Mann, Kasada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, and astronaut Anna Kikina were assisted one by one and placed on stretchers to facilitate their readjustment to gravity.

After initial medical exams, they will be flown ashore by helicopter and then helped aboard a NASA plane on the journey back to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for a debriefing and reunion of family and friends.

Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina helped eject from the Crew Dragon spacecraft as it began to readjust to gravity after more than five months in space.


“Before we set out, our flight director referred to Expedition 68 as ‘Iron Man,’” Casada said in departure remarks last week. “And that was before the universe started throwing balls our way. And then it got really crazy.”

“While we’re here, we’ve done six spacewalks, installed two solar arrays, built the infrastructure for two more solar arrays, and repaired an old, broken array,” Casada continued. “We had five freight cars (visit) along with all the science and hardware that (support) hundreds of experiments and thousands of researchers around the planet.”

He added, “We just want to say thank you, and hopefully we’re proud. If we don’t, don’t tell us until we get home!”

Remaining in orbit are Crew-6 Commander Stephen Bowen, Pilot Woody Hoburgh, Cosmonaut Andrei Vidyaev and Emirati Astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, along with Soyuz MS-22/23 crew Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitry Petlin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio.

Bowen and colleagues Crew-6 He reached the laboratory March 3, replacing Mann, Casada, Wakata and Kekina. Prokopiev and his Soyuz crewmates, who launched last September, are spending an entire year aboard the station in the aftermath. micrometeorites impact which malfunctions their ship, triggering the launch of a replacement spacecraft.

Crew-5 astronauts, donning their SpaceX pressure suits, bid farewell to fellow space station mates before boarding the Crew Dragon spacecraft to return to Earth Saturday night. From left to right: Astronaut Anna Kikina, Pilot Josh Kasada, Commander Nicole Mann, and Japanese Astronaut Koichi Wakata.


As Mann and her cohorts eased off the station after exiting the station early Saturday, Rubio commented, “Awesome sunset departure. You guys look amazing. Great job here, we’ll miss you. Good luck.”

A few moments later, Mann, a Marine Corps colonel, thanked NASA and SpaceX for their support, saying, “I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be part of such an amazing team.”

“For the crew aboard the International Space Station, you got it, make us proud, and we will follow through on your mission,” Mann added. “And to our friends and family, thank you for following us and being a part of our mission. It has been an honor to add to the legacy.”

It concluded with the Marine Corps motto: “Semper Fidelis”.

Crew-5 mission duration initially: 157 days, 10 hours, covering 2,512 orbits and 66.6 million miles since launch on Oct. 5, 2022.

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