SpaceX Crew-5 splashes down in Gulf after 155 days at space station
March 11, 2023
— Anna Kikina is now the first Russian cosmonaut to intentionally splash down from space.
Returning to Earth aboard SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft "Endurance," Kikina and her three Crew-5 astronaut crewmates — Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada of NASA and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) — landed off the coast of Tampa, Florida in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday (March 11) at 9:02 p.m. EDT (0202 GMT on March 12). The parachute-assisted descent marked the ending of a 157-day mission, including 155 days spent on board the International Space Station.
While the splashdown was also a personal first for Mann, Cassada and Wakata, other American and Japanese astronauts have completed spaceflights in the water before. Kikina is only preceded by two Russians, the Soyuz 23 crew of Vyacheslav Zudov and Valery Rozhdestvensky, who in 1976 intended to come down on land but instead descended into a frozen lake in Kazakhstan. Kikina is the first Roscosmos cosmonaut to know she was sea-bound before she left orbit.
SpaceX personnel were staged near the splashdown point to quickly reach the Dragon and bring both it and the crew on board the Shannon, the company's recovery ship named after NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, the first woman to fly on a SpaceX vehicle and the first woman in history to splashdown from space in May 2021.
After brief medical checks, the Crew-5 members were set to be flown by helicopter to Tampa, where they will board a plane for Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Mann, Cassada, Wakata and Kikina's return home began early Saturday morning as Endurance undocked from the forward-facing port of the station's Harmony module at 2:20 a.m. EDT (0720 GMT). The Crew-5 departure left behind Crew-6 members Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg of NASA, Andrey Fedyaev of Roscosmos and Sultan AlNeyadi from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as Soyuz 23 crewmates Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin of Roscosmos and Frank Rubio of NASA to continue on as the station's Expedition 68 resident crew.
Before leaving, the four members of Crew-5 joined their fellow astronauts and cosmonauts to look back the activities of the past six months since their launch to the space station on Oct. 5, 2022.
"It's been a great being a part of Expedition 68," said Mann during the farewell on Wednesday (March 8). "It's incredible just to look out the window and realize the amazing things that we're doing in low Earth orbit."
"This is the beginning of a very exciting time and it's really a privilege just to be a small part of that," she said.
"While we were up here, we did six spacewalks and we installed two solar arrays," added Cassada. "We built the infrastructure for two more solar arrays and we fixed a broken old one. We had five cargo vehicles, along with all the science and hardware that comes along with that, so that we could support hundreds of experiments and thousands of researchers around the planet. So we had a job to do."
In addition to everything that went right, Mann, Cassada, Wakata and Kikina were also there to see two Russian spacecraft suffer external coolant system failures, resulting in a shake up to the crew rotation schedule. The cause(s) of the ammonia leaks was initially thought to be the result of micrometeoroid impacts, but the similarities between the two independent incidents have raised questions about whether it could have a manufacturing defect, so an investigation continues.
Crew-5 marked the fifth spaceflight for Wakata and the first for Mann, Cassada and Kikina. Wakata has now logged 504 days, 18 hours and 31 minutes off the planet. He now ranks 27th in the world for the most time spent in space and has 160 more days than the next JAXA astronaut (Soichi Noguchi at 344 days).
Crew-5 was SpaceX's fifth crew rotation flight for NASA, sixth crewed spaceflight in support of the U.S. space agency and eighth human spaceflight in the company's history. Crew-5 marked the second flight of Endurance, which earlier flew Crew-3 to and from the space station.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon "Endurance" splashes down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Tampa, Florida on Saturday, March 11, 2023. The capsule returned from the International Space Station with the Crew-5 members Nicole Mann, Joshua Cassada, Koichi Wakata and Anna Kikina after 157 days. (NASA/Keegan Barber)
The 11-member Expedition 68 crew aboard the International Space Station give a collective thumbs up. In the bottom row are Andrey Fedyaev, Sultan Alneyadi and Woody Hoburg. In the middle row are Anna Kikina, Koichi Wakata, Nicole Mann, Dmitri Petelin and Frank Rubio. At back are Stephen Bowen, Sergey Prokopyev and Josh Cassada. (NASA)
SpaceX Dragon "Endurance" undocks from the International Space Station with Crew-5 aboard on Saturday, March 11, 2023. (NASA)
NASA and SpaceX mission insignia representing the Crew-5 launch to the International Space Station. (NASA/SpaceX)
Crew-5 astronauts Anna Kikina, Josh Cassada, Nicole Mann and Soichi Wakata are seen on SpaceX's Dragon "Endurance" after landing from the International Space Station on Saturday, March 11, 2023. (NASA/Keegan Barber)