Nasa astronauts splash-land on Earth in SpaceX capsule after ISS mission

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WATCH: Four astronauts splash down off the coast of Florida

Four astronauts have returned to Earth from the International Space Station, in what was Nasa's first night-time landing in 53 years.

The crew - three Nasa astronauts and one from Japan's space agency Jaxa - spent almost six months in space.

They flew back in SpaceX's Crew Dragon Resilience and splash-landed off Panama City, Florida at 02:56 EDT (07:56 BST).

They were supposed to leave the ISS earlier, but their departure was delayed due to bad weather in Florida.

Nasa said the crew were in good spirits after successfully landing in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Speaking at a press conference after the landing, a SpaceX crew operations and resources engineer told the astronauts: "Dragon, on behalf of Nasa and SpaceX teams, we welcome you back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX. For those of you enrolled in our frequent flier programme, you've earned 68 million miles on this voyage."

Nasa astronaut Michael Hopkins, commander of the Crew-1 mission, replied: "It is good to be back on planet Earth. We'll take those miles. Are they transferable?"

Confirming the safe landing on Sunday morning, Nasa said the crew were given medical checks before being flown from Pensacola, Florida to Houston, Texas.

The last Nasa crew to land back on Earth at night-time was Apollo-8 - the first manned mission to the moon, which returned on 27 December 1968.

Image source, NASA
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The astronauts spent six months on the ISS

This latest mission was a collaboration between Nasa and SpaceX, as part of the former's Commercial Crew programme.

SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, has become Nasa's favoured commercial space flight partner.

Nasa livestreamed the moment the capsule left the ISS, moved off into the dark and began its journey back to Earth.

There are still seven astronauts on the ISS, including a new crew of four people who arrived on a different SpaceX craft last week on a mission called Crew-2.

As the capsule moved off, Mr Hopkins said: "Thanks for your hospitality. We'll see you back on Earth."

The astronauts - Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi - travelled into space last November on the first fully operational mission to the ISS by a vehicle made by SpaceX.

Image source, NASA
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The capsule, pictured before it docked on the ISS in November, is a SpaceX vessel

Glover also made history with this mission, by becoming the first black person to hold a long-duration crew assignment on the ISS.

Speaking at a remote press conference before the crew's return to Earth, he said: "One thing that did really profoundly impact me was the very first time I got out of the seat after [the spacecraft] was safely in orbit, and I looked out the window and saw the earth from 250 miles up.

"I will never forget that moment... It wasn't about the view. It was how the view made me feel."

In May 2020, two US astronauts made a test mission to the ISS and stayed until July. This mission, Demo-2, was SpaceX's first astronaut mission.

That was also the first launch to the ISS from US soil since the end of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011. Since then, the US had relied the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to send astronauts to the space station.

It was also the first crewed mission run by a private company and not Nasa.

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What is SpaceX and why are they working with Nasa?