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The four astronauts who make up the Crew-5 team aboard the International Space Station began their return trip home Saturday morning, marking the end of a five-month stay in space.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule disembarked from the space station at 2:20 am ET, beginning the final leg of the astronauts’ journey. The spacecraft is set to splash down off Florida at around 9:20 p.m. ET Saturday.
Rescue ships will be awaiting the team’s arrival, ready to haul the capsule out of the ocean and allow the crew to disembark, giving the astronauts their first breath of fresh air in nearly 160 days. Shortly afterward, the crew will depart for NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The four crew members — NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, astronaut Koichi Wakata of JAXA, or Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and cosmonaut Anna Kikina of the Russian space agency Roscosmos — launched to the space station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule this past October. They’ve spent the past few months carrying out research experiments and keeping up with maintenance of the two-decade-old orbiting laboratory.
And for the past few days, the four have been handing off operations to the Crew-6 team of astronauts who arrived at the space station on March 3.
Mann, a registered member of the Wailacki tribe of the Round Valley reservation, became the first Native American woman to travel into orbit. Like the other astronauts, she devoted time on her journey to public outreach, some of which focused on inspiring Indigenous children. During one outreach event in November 2022, Mann showed off a dream catcher — a traditional totem for Native Americans meant to ward off bad dreams — that she took with her to the space station.
“I am very proud to represent Native Americans and my heritage,” Mann told reporters before launch. “I think it’s important to celebrate our diversity and also realize how important it is when we collaborate and unite, the incredible accomplishments that we can have.”
Kikina’s participation in this flight came as part of a ride-sharing agreement by NASA and Roscosmos in July 2022. Despite geopolitical tensions between the United States and Russia as the war in Ukraine has escalated, NASA has repeatedly said its partnership with Roscosmos is vital to continuing the space station’s operations and the valuable scientific research carried out on board.
The journey marked the first trip to space for Mann, Cassada and Kikina.
Wakata previously flew on NASA’s space shuttle flights and Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. This trip was the Japanese astronaut’s fifth spaceflight mission.