SpaceX successfully returns four astronauts from the International Space Station

Four astronauts successfully returned to Earth today in a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, ending their six-month stay on the International Space Station (ISS). After disconnecting from the ISS early Thursday morning, the crew dove through Earth’s atmosphere before crashing under parachutes off the coast of Florida at 12:43 AM ET.

On board 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, were launched into space in November in the same Crew Dragon. Since docking at the ISS, they have lived and worked in the orbiting lab, conducted science experiments and maintained the station through spacewalks.

The Crew-3 astronauts have also had a rather eventful time in space. Shortly after arriving at the ISS, Russia destroyed one of its own satellites with a ground missile, creating a cloud of debris that initially threatened the integrity of the space station. Immediately after the destruction of the satellite, the Crew-3 astronauts and Russian cosmonauts aboard the ISS had to take shelter in their spacecraft in case the resulting debris damaged the space station and they had to escape quickly. Fortunately for the station residents, the debris did not harm the ISS and the crew was able to return to a normal work schedule.

A few months after that incident, Russia then invaded Ukraine, escalating tensions between the United States and Russia on Earth. That led many to question the stability of the ISS partnership between NASA and the Russian state space company Roscosmos, and there were concerns that operations aboard the space station could be affected. In the end, the Crew-3 astronauts continued their work as planned, along with their Russian colleagues, even welcoming a new crew of Russian cosmonauts to the station in March. While the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, continues to hint at a possible end to the Russian ISS agreement, NASA administrator Bill Nelson assured Congress on May 3 that it was business as usual aboard the ISS and that Russia is still has not withdrawn from the company.

The safe return of Crew-3 marks the end of another routine manned 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, part of an initiative called the Commercial Crew Program. Crew-3 was SpaceX’s third mission to the ISS for NASA and the company’s eighth time launching astronauts into space.

Now that Crew-3 is safely back on Earth, SpaceX and NASA’s next mission will begin in earnest. On April 27, three NASA astronauts and an Italian astronaut with the European Space Agency were launched to the ISS on another Crew Dragon, part of SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission. The Crew-3 astronauts were on board to greet them and familiarize them with the ISS. The Crew-4 astronauts are planned to remain on the ISS until the fall.

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