By Jackie Wattles, CNN Business
Three NASA astronauts and a European astronaut disembarked aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule off the coast of Florida after midnight Friday morning, capping their six-month mission in which they worked alongside Russian cosmonauts and welcomed the first fully private crew to visit the orbiting outpost.
The crew of this mission, called Crew-3, left the ISS in the early hours of Thursday morning and spent more than 20 hours of free flight in orbit aboard the 13-foot-wide capsule before diving back into the atmosphere and being parachuted into its water landing.
The four astronauts on the Crew-3 mission are NASA’s Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, as well as a German ESA astronaut, Matthias Maurer.
After the capsule made a safe landing, rocking up and down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida, Chari told mission control, “Thank you for allowing us to take [Crew Dragon] Endurance on a shakedown cruise.
“Looking forward to many more Endurance flights in the future,” he said, using the “Endurance” name given to the Crew-3 capsule. “It was a great ride. Enjoyed working with the NASA and SpaceX team. Thanks for getting us to the space station and getting us back safe and sound.
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 last week. Then SpaceX launched the Crew-4 astronauts last Wednesday, who will replace the Crew-3 astronauts on the ISS staff, and then immediately began preparing for the return of Crew-3. Meanwhile, the company’s Falcon 9 rocket launched satellites into orbit, including a batch of the company’s Starlink internet satellites, last Friday.
SpaceX has already completed 17 launches so far in 2022, making it the busiest first five months of the year in SpaceX history. And more are on the way, as two more Starlink launches are planned in 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. 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 relied on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for ISS crew transport.
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