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See SpaceX's Crew-3 Dragon capsule streak back to Earth in these amazing photos

SpaceX's Crew-3 Dragon Endurance space capsule streaks through the atmosphere to return four astronauts to Earth on May 6, 2022 off the coast of Florida. (Image credit: SpaceX)

That's no shooting star; it's a spacecraft.

SpaceX's Crew-3 astronaut mission's return to Earth early Friday (May 6) was captured in epic photos as the crew wrapped up a half-year on the International Space Station.

Both NASA and SpaceX, which supplied Crew-3's Dragon capsule for the agency, captured the streaking spacecraft high in the atmosphere in the minutes before the successful splashdown at 12:43 a.m. EDT (0443 GMT), 176 days after their mission began.

Th epic photos show a meteor-like vehicle moving fast through the atmosphere with four individuals on board: Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, all of NASA, and Matthias Maurer with the European Space Agency (ESA).

Related: 8 ways that SpaceX has transformed spaceflight

NASA photographer Aubrey Gemignani captured the Dragon capsule's reentry in a several photos.

SpaceX Crew-3 Dragon spacecraft streaking back to Earth on May 6, 2022.

Crew-3's streaking spacecraft was captured high in the atmosphere by NASA, before it splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico May 6, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Above is one view of the capsule as it plunges through the atmosphere in the wee hours of Friday. 

Below is a wider view of SpaceX's Crew-3 Dragon with the lights of recovery ships visible at the bottom of the image, including what appears to be a spotlight blazing into the night at bottom right. 

A wide-field view of Crew-3's returning spacecraft against the horizon, just prior to splashdown on May 6, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

The returning Endurance spacecraft was visible in Mexico, Florida and nearby areas, generating some social media shares from people who got up early (or stayed up late) to watch the show.

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In the minutes after splashdown, the four astronauts gave an enthusiastic "Hello" to Earth after recovery officials reached the spacecraft. 

From left to right, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer, and NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron, greet recovery officials shortly after the Crew-3 splashdown on May 6, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

While it typically takes about a day of time on our planet to fully recover from each day in space, the astronauts should be able to resume many of their normal activities (such as showering, driving and exercising) in just a few weeks.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.