Astronauts prepare to leave the space station
The Crew-1 astronauts signal they’re ready before leaving the International Space Station. Courtesy SpaceX

The four astronauts of the first operational Crew Dragon mission returned safely to earth late Saturday in a rare night landing in the Gulf of Mexico.

The capsule carrying NASA astronauts Michael HopkinsVictor Glover, and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi, returned to Earth in a parachute-assisted splashdown at 11:56 p.m. Pacific Time off the coast of Panama City, Florida.

Crews aboard SpaceX recovery vessels successfully recovered the spacecraft and astronauts. After returning to shore, the astronauts will fly back to Houston.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission launched Nov. 15, 2020, on a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was the first operational mission under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The four astronauts spent 168 days in orbit, all but one aboard the International Space Station.

It was the first night splashdown of a U.S. crewed spacecraft since Apollo 8’s predawn return from orbiting the moon in 1968.

The splashdown comes just over one week after the launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission, the second long-duration mission. The Crew-2 astronauts launched April 23 and will live and work aboard the station until their return to Earth in about six months.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.