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Four astronauts returned home after a six-month stay on the International Space Station, landing aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule off the coast of Florida on Monday.
The astronauts, members of the Crew-6 mission operated jointly by NASA and SpaceX, departed the space station on Sunday at 7:05 a.m. ET. The crew spent the day aboard the 13-foot-wide Crew Dragon vehicle as it maneuvered through Earth’s orbit toward the target landing site off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, where they landed just after midnight ET.
The Crew Dragon capsule was traveling at more than 17,000 miles per hour (27,000 kilometers per hour), and as it began the final leg of its descent, the temperature of the spacecraft’s exterior had risen to about 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,900 degrees Celsius) as it split backwards. To the thickest part of the Earth’s atmosphere. Inside the spacecraft cabin, passengers were protected by a heat shield and the temperature had to be kept at comfortable temperatures well below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius).
The capsule then deployed sets of parachutes to further slow its descent. Rescue crews waiting near the spacecraft’s crash site are ready to tow the spacecraft from the ocean to a special boat called the “Dragon’s Nest,” where final safety checks will be performed before the crew can disembark.
Before the astronauts left the space station, NASA said it was monitoring the impact of Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall Wednesday morning on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The storm hit northern Florida before sweeping through southern Georgia and the Carolinas.
The four astronauts who make up the Crew-6 team include NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, as well as Sultan Al Neyadi, the second astronaut from the United Arab Emirates to travel to space, and Russian cosmonaut Andrei Fedyev.
The group spent six months aboard the orbiting laboratory after being launched to the station in March. Over the past week, Crew-6 astronauts have been working to welcome and hand over operations to members of the Crew-7 team, who arrived at the space station on August 27.
During their time in space, the Crew-6 astronauts were scheduled to supervise more than 200 scientific and technical projects.
“We accomplished a lot during our mission,” Hoburg said during a teleconference with the astronauts on August 23. As a crew, we did a total of three spacewalks.
During their stay, the Crew-6 astronauts also hosted the Axiom Mission 2 crew, a group made up of a former NASA astronaut and three paying customers that included an American businessman and two astronauts from Saudi Arabia. That flight was part of a plan to ferry tourists and other regularly paying customers to the International Space Station, as NASA sought to increase the amount of commercial activity in low Earth orbit.
“It was a big adventure and a lot of fun,” Hoburg added.
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