NASA-SpaceX's Crew Dragon Splashdown Goes Safely—Watch How It Happened

Four astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS) came back to Earth on Sunday in what was the first nighttime splashdown by a U.S. crew since the Apollo moonshot in 1968.

Six months ago, Elon Musk's SpaceX launched four astronauts—Americans Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker along with Soichi Noguchi, from Japan's space agency—into space aboard a Crew Dragon capsule, named Resilience, on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

After a journey lasting over six hours, they returned this weekend in the same capsule, which parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida at 2.56 a.m. ET. It marked the end of what SpaceX said was its "first six-month operational mission" to the ISS.

📍Destination: Panama City, Florida

At 2:56am ET (06:56 UT) , @NASA_Astronauts @AstroVicGlover, @Astro_illini and Shannon Walker along with @Astro_Soichi of @JAXA_en touchdown on Earth after a six-month science mission aboard the @Space_Station.

— NASA (@NASA) May 2, 2021

All four of the capsule's parachutes could be seen deploying just before splashdown on infrared cameras tracking its return.

The last time NASA astronauts splashed down in darkness was on December 27, 1968. Apollo 8, the agency's first crewed flight to the moon, ended with the pre-dawn splashdown of three astronauts in the Pacific Ocean.

This time, a SpaceX mission control official welcomed the astronauts back to Earth by thanking them for flying SpaceX.

"We welcome you back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX," Michael Heiman told them moments after splashdown, according to The New York Times.

"For those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer program, you've earned 68 million miles on this voyage."

Hopkins, who commanded the mission, joked back: "We'll take those miles. Are they transferrable?"

He was the first one out after SpaceX officials opened a side hatch on the capsule after it was put on a recovery ship.

Shortly before he exited, he thanked NASA and SpaceX. "On behalf of Crew-1 and our families, we just want to say thank you," he said.

"It's amazing what can be accomplished when people come together... Quite frankly, you all are changing the world. Congratulations. It's great to be back."

The returning astronauts will fly back to Houston after returning to land, NASA said in a news release.

“On behalf of Crew-1 and our families, we just want to say thank you...It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together. Y’all are changing the world. Congratulations. It’s great to be back.” – NASA Astronaut Mike Hopkins (@Astro_illini)

— NASA (@NASA) May 2, 2021

The Resilience capsule will return to SpaceX's Dragon Lair in Florida for "inspection and processing," the agency said.

The capsule will be refurbished for the company's first private mission later this year, The Associated Press reported.

Tech billionaire Jared Isaacman purchased the three-day flight to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

He will lead the Inspiration4 mission with a pair of contest winners and a physician assistant from the hospital.

Meanwhile, SpaceX's next astronaut launch for NASA will take place in October. The Crew-2 mission headed to the ISS in April.

NASAs SpaceX Crew-1 Splashdown
Support teams work around the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft shortly after it landed in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, May 2, 2021, off the coast of Panama City, Florida. Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images