A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying four astronauts splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean early Friday (Feb. 9), wrapping up a record-setting private trip to the International Space Station for the company Axiom Space.
Ax-3's Crew Dragon Freedom aced a morning landing off the coast of Daytona Beach, Florida under four main parachutes at about 8:30 a.m. EST (1330 GMT). A SpaceX recovery team swiftly reached the capsule to begin extracting its four-man crew. The three-week mission is the longest private flight for Axiom Space by SpaceX since the missions began in 2022.
"Thank you for flying SpaceX," SpaceX's mission control radioed to the Ax-3 astronauts.
"Flying SpaceX was our pleasure," Ax-3 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut, replied as the Freedom capsule bobbed in the Atlantic. "All four crewmembers are feeling well."
Ax-3 launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Jan. 18 and arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) in the early morning hours of Jan. 20.
The mission consists of four crewmembers: Commander Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA spaceflyer who's now Axiom Space's chief astronaut; pilot Walter Villadei, a colonel in the Italian Air Force; mission specialist Alper Gezeravcı, the first citizen of Turkey ever to reach space; and mission specialist Marcus Wandt, an European Space Agency reserve astronaut. It is SpaceX's first private all-European mission.
The quartet performed more than 56 scientific experiments during their time aboard the ISS, including work in physics and space medicine. They spoke with a wide variety of dignitaries, students and at the European Space Conference during their stay, including a call to actor Melissa Navia, who portrays Lt. Ortegas on "Star Trek: Strange New World."
"Data collected on ground before and after the mission as well as in flight will impact understanding of human physiology on Earth and on orbit, as well as advance scientific understanding, harness opportunities for industrial advancements, and develop technologies for humanity's progress," Axiom Space wrote in a mission description.
Freedom undocked from the ISS on Wednesday (Feb. 7) at 9:20 a.m. EST (1420 GMT), ending Ax-3's stay aboard the orbiting lab. That stay was expected to end on Saturday (Feb. 3), but bad weather in the splashdown zone pushed it back four days.
"It's been an incredible, busy and fun-filled two weeks up here," López-Alegría said during a livestreamed departure ceremony aboard the ISS on Friday (Feb. 2). "I am very proud of my Ax-3 crewmates, who helped their agencies achieve all of their science objectives, technology demonstrations, as well as the outreach events."
"It's been a real pleasure and honor to have you onboard the International Space Station," ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, who commands the station's current Expedition 70 mission, said during the ceremony. "You guys have been great crewmates."
Ax-3 is the sixth spaceflight for López-Alegría. Among his previous missions was Ax-1, which flew to the ISS in April 2022; he is the only person ever to have ridden Dragon to orbit twice. The Ax-2 mission in 2023 was commanded by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson.
The other three Ax-3 astronauts had never been to orbit before, though Villadei did reach suborbital space with Virgin Galactic in June 2023.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 9 a.m. ET on Feb. 9 to reflect the successful splashdown of the Ax-3 astronauts aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon Freedom.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.