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SpaceX's Dragon Returns To Earth Like A 'Shooting Star'

Elon Musk - NASA / SpaceX. Their journey kicked off Monday just after 2 pm ET when the astronauts strapped into the Crew Dragon capsule, whi...

Elon Musk - NASA / SpaceX.
Their journey kicked off Monday just after 2 pm ET when the astronauts strapped into the Crew Dragon capsule, which had remained attached to the International Space Station since it arrived with the crew in April. 

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk compared the capsule's descent to a "shooting star." SpaceX launched the NASA mission to the International Space Station in April. People took to Twitter to post videos of SpaceX's Dragon capsule as it returned to Earth on Monday night. After six months in outer space, SpaceX's Crew-2 astronauts splashed down off the coast of Florida. 

SpaceX launched the NASA mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in April, using the same Crew Dragon capsule, Endeavour, that carried SpaceX's first crewed test flight to the ISS in 2020. A New Orleans resident captured footage of the SpaceX crew as they entered the Earth's atmosphere. The capsule appears to burn bright in the night sky, drawing a line over the horizon. 

The sight elicited excitement for some. One viewer questioned in a video whether the capsule was a shooting star. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responded to the tweet, saying the space company's aircraft "enters like a shooting star." SpaceX is set to launch its next mission, Crew-3, on Wednesday at 9:03 p.M. ET, on a different Dragon capsule. 

Four new astronauts - NASA's Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron, along with ESA's Matthias Maurer - will replace Crew-2's Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency on the ISS.

The spacecraft spent nearly nine hours slowly maneuvering through orbit, approaching the thick inner layer of Earth's atmosphere before the Crew Dragon lit up its thrusters to safely slice into the air, deploy parachutes and splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico around 10:30 pm Monday.

A fleet of rescue ships awaited their arrival and brought the four astronauts — NASA's Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency, and Akihiko Hoshide from Japan — to safety. "It's great to be back to planet Earth," Kimbrough was heard saying in the moments after splashdown on NASA's webcast.

NASA / SpaceX.
Thomas Pesquet, left, NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Aki Hoshide, right, are seen inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft onboard the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship shortly after having landed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

During their stay in space, Kimbrough, McArthur, Pesquet and Hoshide oversaw numerous science experiments and even tested the first chile peppers grown in space. They also conducted spacewalks — in which they don the iconic puffy white spacesuits to exit the space station to work on its exterior — and endured some harrowing challenges, such as working through the misfire of a new Russian module that attached to the ISS and briefly knocked it out of position.