Four astronauts splashed down May 2 aboard a SpaceX-designed Crew Dragon capsule.

Four astronauts splashed down May 2 aboard a SpaceX-designed Crew Dragon capsule.

Four astronauts returned to Earth from the International Space Station aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Corp.-designed Crew Dragon capsule May 2, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico just before 3 a.m. local time.

According to NASA, it was the first nighttime water landing since the Apollo 8 mission in 1968.
The landing marked the completion of SpaceX’s first formal space station crew rotation mission undertaken in partnership with the space agency.

The Hawthorne-based company completed a test mission last year, delivering a pair of astronauts to the space station in May and returning them to Earth in August. SpaceX in November then launched a full crew of NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronauts to the space station.

This crew departed from the space station May 1 — a week after the arrival of a new four-person crew, also transported aboard a SpaceX launch vehicle.

NASA said SpaceX’s first crew rotation mission was the longest undertaken by a crewed American spacecraft, lasting close to six months.

“We’ve accomplished another incredible spaceflight for America and our commercial and international partners,” said newly confirmed NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Safe, reliable transportation to the International Space Station is exactly the vision that NASA had when the agency embarked on the commercial crew program.”

Under its contract with NASA, SpaceX is set to complete another four crew rotation missions. The company also works with the space agency to transport cargo to and from the space station aboard modified Dragon capsules. The next cargo launch is planned for June 3.

The four astronauts transported to the space station last month are also expected to remain aboard the space station for about six months before returning to Earth. SpaceX and NASA are planning another crew rotation mission tentatively set to launch in October.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.