Three NASA astronauts and a European astronaut splashed down aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule off the coast of Florida after midnight Friday morning, capping off their six-month mission during which they worked alongside Russian cosmonauts and hosted the first all-private crew to visit the orbiting outpost.
The crew of this mission, called Crew-3, departed the ISS in the early hours of Thursday morning and spent more than 20 hours free flying through orbit aboard the 13-foot-wide capsule before it plunged back into the atmosphere and parachuted to its water landing.
The four astronauts on the Crew-3 mission are NASA’s Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, as well a German astronaut with the ESA, Matthias Maurer.
After the capsule made a safe landing, bobbing up and down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida, Chari told mission control: “Thanks for letting us take [Crew Dragon] Endurance on a shakedown cruise.”
“Looking forward to watching many more flights of Endurance in the future,” he said, using the “Endurance” name bestowed on Crew-3’s capsule. “That was a great ride. Enjoyed working with the NASA and SpaceX team. Thanks for getting us to the space station and back safely.”
This will mark the conclusion of SpaceX’s third operational mission to the ISS that the company has conducted in partnership with NASA.
SpaceX has had a whirlwind month of activity. It kicked off with the launch of the private AX-1 mission to the ISS on April 8, and the company brought that crew home just last week. Then SpaceX launched the Crew-4 astronauts, who will replace the Crew-3 astronauts on the ISS staff, last Wednesday, then immediately began gearing up for Crew-3’s return. Meanwhile, the company’s Falcon 9 rocket launched satellites to orbit, including a batch of the company’s Starlink internet satellites, just last Friday.
SpaceX has already notched 17 launches so far in 2022, making it the busiest first five months of the year in SpaceX’s history. And more are on the way, as two more Starlink launches are scheduled within the next five days.
The intent of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon program was to return astronaut launches to the United States for the first time since NASA’s Space Shuttle program retired in 2011, allowing NASA to keep the space station fully staffed with its own astronauts as well as astronauts from partner space agencies such as the European Space Agency (ESA). Before the Crew Dragon entered service in 2020, NASA was relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for ISS crew transportation.