Miami, US, May 5 (EFE).- Three NASA astronauts and one from the European Space Agency returned to Earth on Friday morning after six months aboard the International Space Station.
The SpaceX Dragon Endurance spacecraft with astronauts Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and ESA’s Matthias Maurer splashed down safely in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Tampa, Florida, the US space agency said.
The Dragon capsule, which the crew called Endurance, landed around 00:43 local time (4:43 GMT).
Teams on the Shannon recovery ship, including two fast boats, were waiting at the sea to secure Dragon and ensure the spacecraft was safe for the recovery effort, said the space agency.
The recovery ship was ready to move into position to hoist Dragon onto the main deck of Shannon with the astronauts inside.
The crew will then be taken out of the spacecraft for medical checks before a helicopter ride to board a plane for Houston.
The astronauts thus completed the journey of almost 24 hours to Earth after 177 days in the orbital lab, where they arrived on Nov.11.
Marshburn, the mission commander, made his third space flight with this mission.
The other three members were on their first space trip thanks to the Crew-3, which, as its name indicates, is the third manned-operational flight that SpaceX sent to the ISS on behalf of NASA.
The astronauts carried out hundreds of science experiments and conducted three spacewalks during their six months in space.
Before returning home, Marshburn handed over command of Expedition 67 on the ISS to Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev in a brief and symbolic ceremony.
He stressed that the work done on the station was to save lives and improve the existence of humans.
“It has been an interesting day for us. We have been flying around the station collecting our last-minute photos or last minute items and getting ready to come home,” Marshburn said in the farewell ceremony.
“So a bit of a bittersweet day for all of us.”
The NASA commander said the legacy of the ISS was “international cooperation in a world at peace,” a sentiment shared by the Russian cosmonaut, who arrived at the station in March.
“Thank you for your friendship,” Artemyev said before joining Marshburn in a hug.
The astronauts returned home after Crew-4 members arrived at the orbital lab aboard a new Dragon capsule, which they have called Freedom, on Apr.7 for another shift of about six months at the station.
Crew-4 includes NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, Jessica Watkins, and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.
Members of Crew-4 joined Expedition 67 just three days after Ax-1 returned to Earth, the first all-private mission to reach the space station led by former NASA astronaut of Spanish origin Miguel López Alegría.
The Ax-1, coordinated by the private company based in Houston, Axiom Space, took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and arrived on Apr.9 at the ISS.