The spacecraft “Resilience” of the company SpaceX brought back to Earth on Sunday four astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS), after a mission of more than 160 days in space.
Their capsule landed in the middle of the night at 2:56 am (8:56 am HB) in the Gulf of Mexico, off Panama City, Florida (southeastern United States), after a six-and-a-half-hour flight from there. ‘ISS, according to infrared images broadcast by a WB-57 high-altitude research aircraft of the US space agency (Nasa).
The Go Navigator recovery vessel dropped the capsule on its deck half an hour later. The crew of the spacecraft, made up of three Americans and a Japanese, said they were in good health, according to NASA.
It was the first nocturnal return for NASA since the Apollo 8 crew landed in the Pacific Ocean on December 27, 1968.
“We trained to recover the crews day and night,” said NASA’s commercial flight program manager Steve Stich shortly before the capsule’s departure. “The boats have a lot of lighting” and we will have “the light of the moon,” he said.
Captain Michael Hopkins was the first to emerge after the hatch was opened, taking a small dance step as he stepped onto the deck of the Go Navigator, followed by his compatriot Victor Glover.
“On behalf of the Crew-1 crew and our families, we just want to say thank you (…) It’s great to be back,” he said, according to a NASA tweet. American Shannon Walker and Japanese Soichi Noguchi were also in the capsule.
“Welcome home, Victor, Michael, Shannon and Soichi, and congratulations to the NASA and SpaceX teams who have worked hard to ensure a safe and successful landing,” said new NASA administrator Bill Nelson, welcoming “Another incredible space flight for America and its business and international partners”.
The four astronauts were transported to the ISS in November by Elon Musk’s space company SpaceX, which has become NASA’s main business partner. They traveled 114.6 million kilometers during their 168 days in orbit (including 167 days in the ISS), NASA calculated.
They must now undergo medical checks, then be transported by helicopter to Pensacola (Florida) from where they will take a plane to Houston (Texas) to find their relatives.
“Our four crew members are in great shape and in great spirits and are doing very well,” NASA Flight Director Holly Ridings told a press conference. “A great day. It’s not often that you have the opportunity to wake up on the space station and go to bed in Houston ”.