Four Astronauts returned to Earth on Monday, riding home with SpaceX to end a 200-day space station mission that began last spring. Their capsule parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, in darkness. Recovery boats quickly moved in with spotlights.
Their homecoming coming just eight hours after leaving the International Space Station paved the way for SpaceX’s launch of their four replacements as early as Wednesday night. They were scheduled to launch first, but NASA switched the order because of bad weather and an Astronauts undisclosed medical condition. The welcoming duties will now fall to the lone American and two Russians left behind at the space station.
The first issue arose shortly after their April liftoff; Mission Control warned a piece of space junk was threatening to collide with their capsule. It turned out to be a false alarm. Then in July, thrusters on a newly arrived Russian lab inadvertently fired and sent the station into a spin. The four Astronauts took shelter in their docked SpaceX capsule, ready to make a hasty departure if necessary.