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Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

SpaceX and NASA's Crew-1 astronauts successfully return to Earth in first nighttime splashdown in over 50 years

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May 2, 2021, 12:03 PM EDT

The Crew-1 astronauts who left our planet for the International Space Station last November have successfully returned to Earth, NASA confirmed Sunday. Mike Hopkins (Crew Dragon commander), Victor Glover (pilot), Shannon Walker (mission specialist), and Soichi Noguchi (mission specialist of the Japanese Space Agency) landed in the Gulf of Mexico — off the coast of Panama City, Florida — early Sunday morning in the first night-time splashdown since an Apollo 8 mission in December of 1968.

“Welcome home Victor, Michael, Shannon, and Soichi, and congratulations to the teams at NASA and SpaceX who worked so hard to ensure their safe and successful splashdown,” Bill Nelson, a former senator of Florida and recently-confirmed NASA Administrator, told the astronauts. “We’ve accomplished another incredible spaceflight for America and our commercial and international partners. Safe, reliable transportation to the International Space Station is exactly the vision that NASA had when the agency embarked on the commercial crew program."

"All four crew members are doing really well. We got the capsule on board — Resilience on board — SpaceX's recovery ship without any trouble," added NASA's Chief Flight Director Holly Ridings. "As I was walking over here, the helicopters were there, ready to ferry them onto land. So, the reports are [that] all four crew members are in great shape and great spirits and doing really well."

Marking yet another collaboration between NASA and Elon Musk's SpaceX, the undertaking made history as the first launch to be commercially licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. During their 168 days in orbit, Hopkins, Glover, Walker, and Noguchi made over 2,600 revolutions around the planet. "With splashdown, the crew also broke the American crewed spacecraft mission duration record of 84 days, 1 hour, 15 minutes, set by the final Skylab crew in February 1974," says the release. While aboard the ISS, the Crew-1 participants engaged in scientific experiments (such as growing crops or studying protein crystal development), spacewalks, and public engagements.

Moments after the launch six months ago, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne E. Shotwell described the mission as "the beginning of a new era in human spaceflight."

"Obviously, the weather was great," SpaceX VP Hans Koenigsmann said of their return. "We picked a great night for this operation, so everything came together and these are record-breaking times for getting the Dragon out of the water and the crew out of Dragon."