July 17, 2024

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NASA, SpaceX mission: Astronauts returning home from the space station are scattered off the International Space Station on the coast of Florida

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Four astronauts boarded the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and returned home from the International Space Station on Friday, ending their nearly six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory.

The astronauts — Jill Lindgren, Bob Hines, and Jessica Watkins of NASA, as well as Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti with the European Space Agency or ESA — shared a goodbye hug with other astronauts on the space station and were tied to their spacecraft around 10 a.m. Eastern time.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft left its docking port on the International Space Station around noon EST It made a gradual journey home towards the edge of Earth’s thick inner atmosphere. Then the capsule ignited its engines again to orient itself when it started re-entering. This move began to slow the spacecraft from its orbital speed of about 17,500 mph (28,164 kph). The heat shield kept the astronauts protected as the fiery swoop toward Earth heated the outer surface of the spacecraft to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 degrees Celsius).

Then a plume of parachutes slowed its descent further before it reached a descent off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, just before 5 p.m. ET. Rescue ships waited nearby and pulled the spacecraft out of the water, allowing the astronauts to emerge from the capsule and take their first breaths of fresh air in about 170 days.

This mission, called Crew-4, set a historic precedent, as Watkins became the first black woman to join the space station crew for an extended stay.

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During their stay, the astronauts conducted scientific experiments, including research on how to grow vegetables in space without soil and studying the effects of spaceflight on the human body.

These experiments are designed to help astronauts understand how they might one day grow their own food and how their bodies might interact on missions deeper into space, such as NASA’s planned Artemis lunar missions, Watkins said during a news briefing last week.

“It was great to be able to walk into the Columbus unit and smell the leaves of the plants and the growth of plants,” Watkins told reporters.

Cristoforetti, who was on a previous mission to the space station in 2014-2015, is the only woman in the European Space Agency’s astronaut corps, and she herself made history on this mission. Last month, she assumed the position of commander of the space station, becoming the first European woman to do so.

Cristoforetti also conducted a spacewalk in July for its publication small satellite And work is to install a new robotic arm on the outer surface of the space station.