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SpaceX mission returns from space station with ex-NASA astronaut, 3 paying customers

In this image taken from video broadcast by SpaceX, crew members wave after the SpaceX Dragon capsule splashed down into the Gulf of Mexico, just off the Florida Panhandle, late Tuesday, May 30, 2023.
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In this image taken from video broadcast by SpaceX, crew members wave after the SpaceX Dragon capsule splashed down into the Gulf of Mexico, just off the Florida Panhandle, late Tuesday, May 30, 2023.

A SpaceX capsule carrying four astronauts splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City, Florida, late Tuesday.

The Crew Dragon capsule was seen as it streaked across the southeastern U.S. and made a sonic boom before it splashed into the water.

The nighttime return capped a nine-day mission that launched in a SpaceX Falcon rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and docked at the International Space Station in Earth's orbit.

The four-person crew included former NASA veteran Peggy Whitson and three paying passengers, including pilot John Shoffner and two astronauts from the Saudi Space Commission, Ali al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi.

With Whitson's return, she extended her record-setting time in space. She's spent a cumulative 675 days in orbit – the most of any American or woman. She also moved into ninth overall for total duration, passing Russia's Fyodor Yurchikin.

The team conducted medical research, public outreach and more than 20 experiments, such as how low levels of gravity can produce stem cells, which have the ability to create various other types of cells, and affect human messenger RNA cells, which assist protein synthesis.

This is Axiom Space's second privately funded human mission to dock at the International Space Station. In April 2022, Axiom flew the first all-civilian mission to the International Space Station. That lasted 17 days, 15 of which were spent at the ISS.

Axiom says these flights help it to "continue to lay the groundwork" to eventually build and operate Axiom Station, which would be the world's first commercial space station.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: June 4, 2023 at 11:00 PM CDT
    After Peggy Whitson's most recent mission, she extended her record-breaking time in space to 675 days, 3 hours and 48 minutes. We previously reported her total was 674 days.

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As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.
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