SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Four astronauts fly SpaceX back home, end 5-month mission

Mar 11, 2023, 8:37 PM

TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 11: In this photo provided by NASA, the SpaceX Dragon Endurance spacecraft l...

TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 11: In this photo provided by NASA, the SpaceX Dragon Endurance spacecraft lands in the Gulf of Mexico on March 11, 2023 off the coast of Tampa, Florida. NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina are returning after 157 days in space as part of Expedition 68 aboard the International Space Station. (Photo by Keegan Barber/NASA via Getty Images)

(Photo by Keegan Barber/NASA via Getty Images)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Four space station astronauts returned to Earth late Saturday after a quick SpaceX flight home.

Their capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico just off the Florida coast near Tampa.

The U.S.-Russian-Japanese crew spent five months at the International Space Station, arriving last October. Besides dodging space junk, the astronauts had to deal with a pair of leaking Russian capsules docked to the orbiting outpost and the urgent delivery of a replacement craft for the station’s other crew members.

Led by NASA’s Nicole Mann, the first Native American woman to fly in space, the astronauts checked out of the station early Saturday morning. Less than 19 hours later, their Dragon capsule was bobbing in the sea as they awaited pickup.

Earlier in the week, high wind and waves in the splashdown zones kept them at the station a few extra days. Their replacements arrived more than a week ago.

“That was one heck of a ride,” Mann radioed moments after splashdown. “We’re happy to be home.”

Mann, a member of Northern California’s Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, said she couldn’t wait to feel the wind on her face, smell fresh grass and enjoy some delicious Earth food.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata craved sushi, while Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina yearned to drink hot tea “from real cup, not from plastic bag.”

NASA astronaut Josh Cassada’s to-do list included getting a rescue dog for his family. “Please don’t tell our two cats,” he joked before departing the space station.

Remaining behind at the space station are three Americans, three Russians and one from the United Arab Emirates.

Wakata, Japan’s spaceflight champion, now has logged more than 500 days in space over five missions dating back to NASA’s shuttle era.

___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Four astronauts fly SpaceX back home, end 5-month mission