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Four astronauts fly SpaceX back home, creating a light show across Florida

The capsule of the SpaceX Dragon Endurance spacecraft, slowed by parachutes, approaches the surface of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico off Tampa, as it returns to Earth with Expedition 68 Flight Engineers Anna Kikina of Roscosmos, Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann from NASA, and Koichi Wakata of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) after a five-month mission in the International Space Station, on Saturday, March 11, 2023.
Keegan Barber
/
NASA
The capsule of the SpaceX Dragon Endurance spacecraft, slowed by parachutes, approaches the surface of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico off Tampa, as it returns to Earth with Expedition 68 Flight Engineers Anna Kikina of Roscosmos, Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann from NASA, and Koichi Wakata of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) after a five-month mission in the International Space Station, on Saturday, March 11, 2023.

They splashed down Saturday night around 9 p.m. in the Gulf of Mexico near Tampa. Images captured on social media show the streak of light as the capsule made its way back into the atmosphere.

Four space station astronauts returned to Earth late Saturday after a quick SpaceX flight home.

Their capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico just off the Florida coast near Tampa.

The U.S.-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 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 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.”

NASA astronaut Josh Cassada's to-do list included getting a rescue dog for his family. “Please don't tell our two cats,” he joked before departing the space station.

Remaining behind at the space station are three Americans, three Russians and one from the United Arab Emirates.

Wakata, Japan's spaceflight champion, now has logged more than 500 days in space over five missions dating back to NASA's shuttle era.

___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.