A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying four astronauts back to Earth from the International Space Station has parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico. It was the first US crew splashdown in darkness since 1968.
SpaceX safely returned four astronauts from the International Space Station on Sunday, ending the second astronaut flight for Elon Musk's company.
After an express trip home, lasting just 6 1/2 hours, the crew splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, off Florida, at around 3 a.m. local time (0700 UTC/GMT).
"We welcome you back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX," SpaceX's Mission Control radioed moments after splashdown.
"For those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer program, you've earned 68 million miles on this voyage."
The landing was the first US nighttime splashdown since Apollo 8's crew returned from the moon in 1968.
The four astronauts had departed the International Space Station (ISS) late Saturday, after more than 160 days in space.
NASA's Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan's Soichi Noguchi, reached home in the same Dragon capsule that delivered them to the ISS last November.
Before the journey, NASA tweeted: "The astronauts have removed their spacesuits and are enjoying one more meal in space before returning to Earth. They'll suit up again before the deorbit burn, about 4.5 hours from now."
"Thanks for your hospitality,'' Hopkins, the spacecraft commander, radioed as the capsule undocked 420 kilometers (260 miles) above Mali. "We'll see you back on Earth."
The high offshore wind kept the four at the ISS beyond their original departure date, Wednesday, allowing Glover to celebrate his 45th birthday in space on Friday.
"Gratitude, wonder, connection. I'm full of and motivated by these feelings on my birthday, as my first mission to space comes to an end,'' Glover said.
Noguchi tweeted a photo of the crew celebrating Glover's birthday on the ISS with "live music, yummy cakes, funny videos [and] lots of laughter."
The four astronauts' replacements arrived a week ago aboard the same Dragon capsule.
Three US astronauts, two Russians, a Japanese and a French national were left at the space station after Saturday's undocking.
Last November, the crew were the first to go on a fully operational mission to the ISS aboard a vehicle made by SpaceX.
SpaceX has become NASA's favored commercial transportation partner, ending nine years of dependence on Russia.
mm, fb/aw (AFP, AP, dpa)