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Astronauts head home from International Space Station

Astronauts head home from International Space Station
SpaceX Crew-1 members talk about their Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station as they prepared to depart: NASA astronauts Shannon Walker (L to R), Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

May 1 (UPI) -- Astronauts from SpaceX's Crew-1 mission undocked their Crew Dragon capsule Resilience from the International Space Station at 8:35 p.m. EDT Saturday and headed for a nighttime splashdown off Florida about 6 1/2 hours later.

The splashdown, planned for waters near Florida, would be the first night return of a U.S. crewed capsule since Apollo 8's predawn return in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 27, 1968, with NASA astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders.

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According to NASA, the Crew Dragon will undock autonomously and leave the space station, with the capability to splash down at one of seven predetermined landing zones.

The primary sites chosen Friday were in the Gulf of Mexico off Panama City, Fla., followed by near Tampa, Fla.

The astronauts will bring with them what the space agency calls "important and time-sensitive research."

The capsule will fly robotically unless there is a serious problem, crew commander Mike Hopkins said in a news conference Monday from the space station.

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"Your landings are always fairly dynamic, particularly with the capsules like this, particularly when the chutes are opening, so that's always a little bit exciting," Hopkins said.

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He and the crew will monitor the progress of the flight closely, to stay ahead of what the Crew Dragon is doing.

NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi will be in the capsule with Hopkins.

The Crew-1 mission marked the first time four people flew in a space capsule, and was only the second crewed launch for SpaceX and NASA's commercial crew program.

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The best part of the mission was greeting the Crew-2 astronauts, who arrived on Saturday morning at the space station, Noguchi said at the press conference. That arrival boosted the population of the space station for a short while to 11 for the first time in years.

The Crew-1 mission was launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 15, before vaccines for the COVID-19 pandemic became available. The crew members intend to be vaccinated in the coming weeks, the astronauts said.

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