SpaceX sent four astronauts home on Friday with a midnight splashdown at the Gulf of Mexico. This was the culmination of Elon Musk's busiest month.
Three U.S. astronauts, one German, and the capsule's pilot were spotted bobbing near Tampa, Florida, less than 24 hours after they left the International Space Station. NASA expected them to be back in Houston by the afternoon.
Before departing, Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron and Matthias Maurer from NASA hugged the seven remaining astronauts at the station.
"It's the conclusion of a six month mission, but I believe the space dream lives on," Maurer stated.
SpaceX's U.S. and Italian counterparts were brought aboard last week after they completed a charter flight to the station for three businessmen.
This is equivalent to two crew launches plus two splashdowns within a matter of a month. Musk's company has launched 26 people into space in two years since it began ferrying astronauts to orbit for NASA. Eight of those 26 were space tourists.
SpaceX Mission Control radioed "Welcome Home" at splashdown. SpaceX Mission Control radioed "Welcome home," thanking them for their flight.
Chari, the capsule commander, said that it was a "great ride". He also noted that there was only one complaint about the gravity reintroduction. These water bottles are extremely heavy.
They all emerged from the capsule about an hour later and waved and gave thumbs-up while being hustled off on rolling chaises to undergo medical checks.
After decades of resistance, NASA opened its side of the station to the public and allowed paying guests to visit.
The down side was that they had to deal with dangerously high levels of space junk following a Russian missile test in November. For years, more than 1,500 pieces shrapnel were spread throughout the Earth's orbit.
While tensions have been created between Russia and the U.S. over the conflict in Ukraine, astronauts have stood behind their Russian counterparts and vice versa. NASA officials said that flight controllers in Houston, Moscow and other locations continued to work together as usual.
Marshburn described the space station as "a place for peace" when he gave up command earlier this week and stated that international cooperation would be its lasting legacy. Russian Oleg Artemyev was the new commander and emphasized peace between countries and our friendship in orbit. He also described his crewmates and their families as "brothers and sisters".
There are now three Russians, three Americans, and one Italian up there.
This was Marshburn's third spaceflight and the first time that the three of them had returned with him. Chari and Barron could make their next stop the moon. They are one of 18 astronauts selected by NASA for its Artemis moon-landing program. Two other members of that elite group are currently at the space station.