SpaceX brought four astronauts home with a midnight splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, capping the busiest month yet for Elon Musk’s taxi service. The three US astronauts and one German in the capsule were bobbing off the Florida coast, near Tampa, less than 24 hours after leaving the International Space Station. NASA expected to have them back in Houston later in the morning. NASA’s Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, and the European Space Agency’s Matthias Maurer, embraced the seven astronauts remaining at the station before parting ways, the AP reports. "It’s the end of a six-month mission, but I think the space dream lives on," Maurer said.
SpaceX brought up their US and Italian replacements last week after completing a charter trip to the station for a trio of businessmen. That amounts to two crew launches and two splashdowns in barely a month. Musk’s company has now launched 26 people into orbit in less than two years, since it started ferrying astronauts for NASA. Eight of those 26 were space tourists. The newly returned astronauts said their mission was highlighted by the three visitors and their ex-astronaut escort who dropped by in April, opening up NASA’s side of the station to paying guests after decades of resistance.
On the downside, they had to contend with a dangerous spike in space junk after Russia blew up a satellite in a missile test in mid-November. While the war in Ukraine has caused tensions between the US and Russia, the astronauts have stood by their Russian crewmates, and vice versa. As he relinquished command of the space station earlier this week, Marshburn called it "a place of peace" and said international cooperation would likely be its lasting legacy. Russian Oleg Artemyev, the new commander, also emphasized the "peace between our countries, our friendship" in orbit and described his crewmates as brothers and sisters.
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