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NASA's Crew-3 astronauts splash down in Gulf of Mexico

By Amy Thompson
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NASA's Crew-3 astronauts splash down in Gulf of Mexico
NASA astronaut Kayla Barron is helped out of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft, which landed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Tampa, Florida, early Friday. NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Barron with European Space Agency astronaut Matthais Maurer returned to earth after 177 days in space as part of Expeditions 66 and 67 onboard the International Space Station. Photo by Aubrey Gemignani/NASA

ORLANDO, Fla., May 5 (UPI) -- After a 24-hour delay to be sure of weather conditions in the Atlantic Ocean, NASA's Crew-3 returned to Earth on Friday with a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico just off the coast of Florida.

NASA's Raja Chari, Kayla Barron and Tom Marshburn and Germany's Matthias Maurer splashed down in their Dragon Endurance capsule at 12:43 a.m. EDT.

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"We're glad to be back," Chari told the SpaceX team at mission control. "Thanks for letting us take Endurance on a shakedown cruise, looking forward to watching many more flights of Endurance in the future. It was a great ride."

Crew-3's departure was backed up by a day as officials worked to better understand weather conditions in the planned splashdown zones, with forecasters finally giving the all-clear to undock from the International Space Station on Wednesday.

SpaceX and NASA engineers monitored the forecast until it was time for a de-orbit burn to slow the spacecraft down enough to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere.

Engineers choose the splashdown site from seven possible locations based on weather and sea states as the capsule approached for its landing with the ideal site having been off the coast of Cape Canaveral.

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Following splashdown, recovery teams were deployed to hoist the capsule out of the water. The crew were then extracted and flown via helicopter to Cape Canaveral.

The crew said goodbye to the seven astronauts left on board ISS before boarding Endurance spacecraft and undocking from the station at 1:05 a.m. EDT.

After piloting itself away from ISS on Thursday, Endurance spent about 23 and a a half hours in space before its splashed down in the ocean on Friday.

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Crew-3 launched to the space station on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Nov. 10, and arrived at ISS the next day to start their six-month mission.

After welcoming a private crew of astronauts to ISS for the first time, spending 16 days with Axiom Space's Ax-1 crew, Crew-3 then welcomed the astronauts that will take over for them -- Crew-4 -- and spent the last week bringing them up to speed on science work already in progress.

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NASA's Crew-4 -- Kjell Lindgren, Jessica Watkins, and Bob Hines and the European Space Agency's Samantha Cristoforetti -- flew to the space station on April 27 for their own six-month mission.

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