Four astronauts successfully returned home to Earth on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft today, ending their six-month stay on the International Space Station (ISS). After undocking from the ISS early Thursday morning, the crew dove into Earth’s atmosphere before parachuting off the coast of Florida at 12:43 am ET.
Aboard the Crew Dragon were three NASA astronauts, Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari and Kayla Barron, as well as German astronaut Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency. The astronauts, part of a mission called Crew-3, launched into space on the same Crew Dragon in November. Since docking with the ISS, they have been living and working in the orbiting laboratory, conducting science experiments and maintaining the station through spacewalks.
The Crew 3 astronauts have also had a pretty eventful stay in space. Shortly after arriving at the ISS, Russia destroyed one of its own satellites with a ground-based missile, creating a cloud of debris that initially threatened the integrity of the space station. Immediately after the satellite’s destruction, Crew 3 astronauts and Russian cosmonauts aboard the ISS had to take shelter inside their spacecraft in case the resulting debris damaged the space station and they had to quickly escape. Fortunately for the inhabitants of the station, the debris did not damage the ISS and the crew was able to return to their normal work schedule.
A few months after that incident, Russia invaded Ukraine, ratcheting up tensions between the United States and Russia on Earth. That led many to question the stability of the ISS partnership between NASA and Russia’s state space corporation, Roscosmos, and there were concerns that operations aboard the space station could be affected. Ultimately, the Crew 3 astronauts continued their work as planned alongside their Russian colleagues, even welcoming a new crew of Russian cosmonauts to the station in March. While Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin continues to hint at a possible end to the ISS agreement with Russia, NASA administrator Bill Nelson assured Congress on May 3 that business as usual aboard the ISS and that Russia has not yet withdrawn from the camaraderie.
Crew-3’s safe return marks the end of another routine human spaceflight mission to the ISS for both SpaceX and NASA. SpaceX has a contract with NASA to periodically send astronauts to and from the International Space Station, as part of an initiative called the Commercial Crew Program. Crew-3 was SpaceX’s third operating mission to the ISS for NASA, as well as the company’s eighth time launching astronauts into space.
Now that Crew-3 is safely back on Earth, the next SpaceX and NASA mission will begin in earnest. On April 27, three NASA astronauts and an Italian astronaut from the European Space Agency launched to the ISS in another Crew Dragon, part of SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission. Crew 3 astronauts were on board to greet them and help familiarize them with the ISS. The Crew 4 astronauts are scheduled to stay on the ISS until the fall.