Cape Canaveral (US), May 2: SpaceX returned four astronauts from the International Space Station on Sunday, making the first US crew splashdown in darkness since the Apollo 8 moonshot.
 
The Dragon capsule parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, just before 3 am, ending the second astronaut flight for Elon Musk's company.

It was an express trip home, lasting just 6 1/2 hours.

The astronauts, three American and one Japanese, flew back in the same capsule named Resilience in which they launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in November.

Their 167-day mission is the longest for astronauts launching from the US The previous record of 84 days was set by NASA's final Skylab station crew in 1974.

Saturday night's undocking left seven people at the space station, four of whom arrived a week ago via SpaceX.

Earthbound! NASA astronaut Victor Glover tweeted after departing the station.

One step closer to family and home!

Glover along with NASA's Mike Hopkins and Shannon Walker and Japan's Soichi Noguchi should have returned to Earth last Wednesday, but high offshore winds forced SpaceX to pass up a pair of daytime landing attempts.

Managers switched to a rare splashdown in darkness, to take advantage of calm weather.

SpaceX had practiced for a night time return, just in case, and even recovered its most recent station cargo capsule from the Gulf of Mexico in darkness. Infrared cameras tracked the capsule as it re-entered the atmosphere; it resembled a bright star streaking through the night sky.

All four main parachutes could be seen deploying just before splashdown, which was also visible in the infrared.

Apollo 8 NASA's first flight to the moon with astronauts ended with a predawn splashdown in the Pacific near Hawaii on Dec. 27, 1968. Eight years later, a Soviet capsule with two cosmonauts ended up in a dark, partially frozen lake in Kazakhstan, blown off course in a blizzard.

That was it for night time crew splashdowns until Sunday.

Despite the early hour, the Coast Guard was out in full force to enforce an 11-mile (18-kilometer) keep-out zone around the bobbing Dragon capsule. For SpaceX's first crew return in August, pleasure boaters swarmed the capsule, a safety risk.

Once aboard the SpaceX recovery ship, the astronauts planned to hop on a helicopter for the short flight to shore, then catch a plane straight to Houston for a reunion with their families.

Their capsule, Resilience, will head back to Cape Canaveral for refurbishment for SpaceX's first private crew mission in September. The space station docking mechanism will be removed, and a brand new domed window put in its place.

A tech billionaire has purchased the entire three-day flight, which will orbit 75 miles (120 kilometers) above the space station. He'll fly with a pair of contest winners and a physician assistant from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, his designated charity for the mission.

SpaceX's next astronaut launch for NASA will follow in October.

NASA turned to private companies to service the space station, after the shuttle fleet retired in 2011. SpaceX began supply runs in 2012 and, last May, launched its first crew, ending NASA's reliance on Russia for astronaut transport.

Boeing isn't expected to launch astronauts until early next year.

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Hong Kong, Oct 25: Amnesty International said Monday it would close its two offices in Hong Kong this year, becoming the latest non-governmental organization to cease its operations amid a crackdown on political dissent in the city.

The human rights group said its local office in Hong Kong would close this month while its regional office will close by the end of the year, with regional operations moved to other offices in the Asia-Pacific region.

This decision, made with a heavy heart, has been driven by Hong Kong's national security law, which has made it effectively impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government, Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, chair of Amnesty's board, said in a statement.

Hong Kong implemented a sweeping national security law in 2020 following months of massive anti-government protests. The law outlaws secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and foreign collusion to intervene in the city's affairs. More than 120 people, many of them supporters of the city's democracy movement, have been arrested under the law.

The majority of the city's prominent pro-democracy activists are behind bars for taking part in unauthorized assemblies, and dozens of political organizations and trade unions have ceased operations out of concern for their members' personal safety under the security law.

Bais said the recent targeting of local human rights and trade union groups signaled authorities were intensifying their campaign to rid the city of dissenting voices. It is increasingly difficult for us to keep operating in such an unstable environment, she said.

Critics in Hong Kong say the national security law is an erosion of freedoms, such as those of expression and assembly, that were promised the city for 50 years when the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997.