The fourth long-duration astronaut team launched by SpaceX to the International Space Station (ISS) safely returned to Earth on Friday, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida after nearly six months of research aboard the orbital outpost.
Splashdown under clear skies, at about 4:55 p.m. EDT (2055 GMT), was carried live by a joint NASA-SpaceX webcast.
In less than an hour, recovery teams had hoisted the heat-scorched Crew Dragon onto a retrieval vessel before opening the capsule's side hatch and helping the four astronauts out by one for their first breath of fresh air in more than 24 weeks.
Among those greeting them on the deck of the ship was the vessel's namesake, veteran NASA astronaut Megan McArthur.
Each of the returning astronauts was to receive a routine medical checkup aboard the ship before being flown by helicopter back to Florida.
SCORCHING RE-ENTRY, THEN PARACHUTES
The return from orbit followed a fiery re-entry plunge through Earth's atmosphere generating frictional heat that sent temperatures outside the capsule soaring to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,930 degrees Celsius).
Two sets of parachutes billowed open above the capsule in the final stage of descent, slowing its fall to about 15 miles per hour (24 kph) before the craft hit the water off Jacksonville, Florida.