On Friday, the fourth NASA long-duration astronaut crew that SpaceX had deployed to the International Space Station (ISS) began their journey back to Earth, concluding a nearly six-month scientific mission.
At 12:05 p.m. EDT (16:05 GMT), the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying three NASA astronauts from the United States and an Italian crewmate from the European Space Agency separated from the International Space Station to begin a nearly five-hour return journey.
A NASA Livestream of the undocking displayed live video of the capsule drifting away from the station as the two spacecraft flew high over the North Atlantic.
The four astronauts were shown strapped inside the crew cabin wearing helmeted white and black spacesuits just before the flight separated from the station, orbiting some 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.
The capsule was then autonomously moved away from the ISS, and its orbit was decreased to prepare it for a subsequent atmospheric re-entry and splashdown.
At 4:55 p.m., if all goes according to plan, the Crew Dragon, named Freedom, will dive into the water off the Atlantic coast of Florida (2055 GMT)
Following a SpaceX launch on April 27, the Freedom crew—consisting of Kjell Lindgren, 49; Jessica Watkins, 34; Bob Hines, 47; and Samantha Cristoferetti, 45—arrived at the station. Watkins made history by becoming the first African-American woman to fly a lengthy mission for the ISS.
The fourth full-fledged long-duration group of astronauts sent to the International Space Station by SpaceX, that crew was known as “Crew-4” since the private rocket company founded by Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk began flying NASA personnel in May 2020.
They left the station a week after their replacement crew, Crew-5, which included the first Native American woman to be taken into space, a Russian cosmonaut, a Japanese astronaut, and two other NASA crew members, arrived.
With two additional Russians and an American who traveled to the ISS on the same Soyuz mission in September, Crew-5 is still on the station for the time being. Before Crew-4 departed, one of those cosmonauts, Sergey Prokopyev, took over as commander of the ISS from Cristoferetti of the European Space Agency.
ISS, which is a football field long and is run by U.S.-Russian cooperation that also includes Canada, Japan, and 11 European nations, has been occupied continuously since 2000.