4 Astronauts Fly SpaceX Back Home, End 5-month Mission

4 Astronauts Fly SpaceX Back Home, End 5-month Mission
The capsule of the SpaceX Dragon Endurance spacecraft, slowed by parachutes, approaches the surface of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico off Tampa, Fla., as it returns to Earth on March 11, 2023. (Keegan Barber/NASA via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.—Four space station astronauts returned to Earth late Saturday after a quick SpaceX flight home.

Their capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico just off the Florida coast near Tampa.

The U.S.–Russian–Japanese crew spent five months at the International Space Station, arriving last October. Besides dodging space junk, the astronauts had to deal with a pair of leaking Russian capsules docked to the orbiting outpost and the urgent delivery of a replacement craft for the station’s other crew members.

Led by NASA’s Nicole Mann, the first Native American woman to fly in space, the astronauts checked out of the station early Saturday morning. Less than 19 hours later, their Dragon capsule was bobbing in the sea as they awaited pickup.

Earlier in the week, high wind and waves in the splashdown zones kept them at the station a few extra days. Their replacements arrived more than a week ago.

Astronauts
Clockwise from L, Expedition 68 Flight Engineers Anna Kikina of Roscosmos, Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann from NASA, and Koichi Wakata of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) gather for a portrait inside the International Space Station’s Kibo laboratory module on March 1, 2023. (NASA via AP)

“That was one heck of a ride,” Mann radioed moments after splashdown. “We’re happy to be home.”

Mann, a member of Northern California’s Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, said she couldn’t wait to feel the wind on her face, smell fresh grass and enjoy some delicious Earth food.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata craved sushi, while Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina yearned to drink hot tea “from real cup, not from plastic bag.”

NASA astronaut Josh Cassada’s to-do list included getting a rescue dog for his family. “Please don’t tell our two cats,” he joked before departing the space station.

Remaining behind at the space station are three Americans, three Russians, and one from the United Arab Emirates.

Wakata, Japan’s spaceflight champion, now has logged more than 500 days in space over five missions dating back to NASA’s shuttle era.

By Marcia Dunn

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