SpaceX capsule splashes down, bringing astronauts home

STORY: The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule dubbed Endurance, carrying three U.S. NASA astronauts and a European Space Agency (ESA) crewmate from Germany, parachuted into calm seas in darkness at the conclusion of a 23-hour-plus autonomous flight home from the ISS.

Thermal-camera video of the splashdown, at about 12:45 a.m. EDT (0445 GMT), was carried live by a joint NASA-SpaceX webcast.

The Endurance crew, which began its stay in orbit on November 11, consisted of American spaceflight veteran Tom Marshburn, 61, and three first-time astronauts - NASA's Raja Chari, 44, and Kayla Barron, 34, and their ESA colleague Matthias Maurer, 52.

Chari could be heard radioing thanks to mission control moments after splashdown.

In less than an hour, the heat-scorched Crew Dragon was hoisted onto a recovery ship before the capsule's side hatch was opened, and the four astronauts were helped out one by one for their first breath of fresh air in nearly six months.

Still garbed in white-and-black spacesuits, their strength and equilibrium shaky from 175 days spent in a weightless environment, were assisted onto special gurneys as they waved and gave thumbs-up for cameras.

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