Four International Space Station astronauts were rescued and returned to Earth Saturday night on a fast-track SpaceX return trip.
The capsule with them on board descended by parachute in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Florida, near Tampa.
The crew, which included two Americans, a Russian and a Japanese, spent five months at the orbital outpost, where they had arrived in October.
In addition to dodging space junk, the astronauts faced serious difficulties with a pair of leaking Russian capsules attached to the space station and the urgent delivery of a replacement craft for the other crew members.
Led by NASA’s Nicole Mann, the first Native American woman to travel in space, the astronauts left the station early Saturday.
Less than 19 hours later, their Dragon capsule was floating at sea awaiting pickup.
At the beginning of the week, due to strong winds and high waves in the landing area, the crew had to stay a few more days at the station. Their replacements had arrived over a week ago.
“What a trip,” Mann radioed after landing. “We are happy to be home.”
Mann, who belongs to the Wailacki group of Round Valley Indian Tribes in northern California, said she is looking forward to feeling the wind on her face, smelling fresh grass and enjoying delicious foods from the Earth.
Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata wanted to eat sushi and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina wanted hot tea served “in a real cup, not from a plastic bag.”
NASA astronaut Josh Cassada included getting a sniffer dog for his family among his to-dos. “Please don’t tell our two cats,” Cassada quipped before leaving the space station.
Three Americans, three Russians and one from the United Arab Emirates stayed in the orbital outpost of space.
Wakata, Japan’s spaceflight champion, has spent more than 500 days in space on five missions dating back to NASA’s shuttle era.