Cape Canaveral, Florida: Four space station astronauts returned to Earth late on Saturday (US time) after a quick SpaceX flight home.
Their capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico just off the Florida coast near Tampa.
The US-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 on 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 for 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”.