Recovery crews make their way to the Crew Dragon Endurance shortly after the capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico early Friday to close out a 176-day mission. NASA/SpaceX One day after undocking from the International Space Station, four astronauts plunged back to Earth aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule early Friday, streaking across southern Mexico to an on-target splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico west of Tampa to close out a six-month mission. With Crew-3 commander Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn monitoring the automated descent, the Crew Dragon "Endurance" fired its braking thrusters for nearly eight minutes starting at 11:53 p.m. EDT, slowing the ship by about 120 mph to drop out of orbit. After a 38-minute freefall, the capsule slammed into the discernible atmosphere at nearly 5 miles per second, streaking high above southern Mexico and out over the Gulf on a southwest to northeast trajectory, rapidly decelerating in a blaze of atmospheric friction. Eight minutes later, right on time, the Crew Dragon's four main parachutes unfurled and fully inflated, lowering the capsule to a smooth splashdown at 12:43 a.m. to close out its maiden voyage. Commander Raja Chari smiles and waves to support crews after being helped from the Crew Dragon spacecraft. All four astronauts were in good spirits and appeared to be in good health as they began the process of re-adjusting to gravity after six months in space. NASA/SpaceX "Thanks for letting us take Endurance on its shakedown cruise," Chari radioed flight controllers. "Looking forward to watching many more flights of Endurance in the future. It was a great ride. Enjoyed working with the NASA and SpaceX teams. Thanks for getting us up to the space station and back safely." A moment later, he joked: "Only one complaint. These water bottles are super heavy!" SpaceX crews stationed nearby with high-speed recovery boats quickly raced to the gently bobbing capsule to check on the crew while a company ship moved in to pull the Crew Dragon on board. Chari, Marshburn, submariner-turned-astronaut Kayla Barron and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer were carried out one at a time on stretchers, standard procedure for crews returning to Earth and the uncomfortable tug of gravity after a half year in weightlessness. The Crew Dragon astronauts smile and wave as SpaceX technicians open the capsule's hatch to help them out of the spacecraft after splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico. Left to right: European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer and NASA crewm . . . read the full article here.