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In this photo provided by NASA, support teams work around a SpaceX capsule shortly after it splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla., Monday, Sept. 4, 2023, with NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen, United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi, NASA astronaut Warren (Woody) Hoburg and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrei Fedyaev aboard after a six-month stay at the International Space Station. (Joel Kowsky/NASA via AP) Image Credit: AP

Dubai: An Arab star literally descended on Earth on Monday morning when the NASA SpaceX Crew-6 splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Jacksonville in Florida, US.

UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi made his triumphant return to Earth after the successful completion of the longest Arab space mission in history exactly one hour after the Crew-6 Dragon spacecraft Endeavour splashed down at 8.17am in the UAE.

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In this image from video made available by NASA, a SpaceX capsule, slowed by parachutes, splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast, Monday, Sept. 4, 2023, as it returns to Earth with NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen, United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi, NASA astronaut Warren (Woody) Hoburg and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev after a six-month stay at the International Space Station. (NASA via AP) Image Credit: AP

The Najmonaut (Arab astronaut), who spent 186 days in space, was the last of the four crew members to be rolled out of the Dragon positioned on the recovery platform of SpaceX recovery vessel Megan.

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Recovery team members on the capsule. Image Credit: NASA/X

The crew members safely egressed from the side hatch of the Dragon Endeavour with the help of the SpaceX recovery personnel.

After initial medical checks, the crew members were taken for a short helicopter ride to Florida from where a NASA aircraft flew them to Houston where they were scheduled to be welcomed by family members. Al Neyadi’s father, brothers, wife and MBRSC officials were among those waiting to give him a grand reception.

Gulf News tracked his historic journey back to Earth that began with undocking procedures on Sunday morning and continued the live coverage on Monday till the crew members safely egressed after their 17-hour journey. Here is how it happened on Monday.

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This screen grab taken from the NASA live feed shows the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft being lifted onto the recovery vessel after splashdown off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida on September 4, 2023. Crew-6 members Bowen, Hoburg, Alneyadi, and Fedyaev are returning after nearly six-months in space as part of Expedition 69 aboard the International Space Station. Photo US (Photo by Handout / NASA / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / NASA / HANDOUT" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS Image Credit: AFP

Safety preparations, site selection

Safety precautions were meticulously planned, with the United States Coast Guard establishing a safety zone to protect both the crew and the public during recovery operations. The splashdown site off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, was selected based on various factors, including weather conditions and the space station’s orbital trajectory.

Re-entry phases

The Dragon spacecraft followed a series of critical phases, including phasing burns, trunk jettison, deorbit burn, re-entry, parachute deployment, and finally, splashdown.

The re-entry phase involved a blackout period of seven minutes due to plasma formation outside the spacecraft during the descent. This phase was challenging as the Dragon Endeavour experienced temperatures exceeding 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This blackout offered a fantastic view of the Dragon for those in Central Florida.

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Al Neyadi egressing out of the Dragon after due checks. Image Credit: Screengrab

Communication signals were temporarily lost but were successfully reestablished after this period. Due to the heat shield’s work during re-entry, the spacecraft slowed down from 17,000 to 350 miles per hour, and the thermal protection systems (TPS) shielded the Dragon from the extreme heat.

Recovery safety measures

Multiple safety measures were in place to ensure the safe recovery of the heat-scorched Dragon and the crew. The deployment of parachutes, including two drogue and two main parachutes, helped slow down the spacecraft’s descent.

The spacecraft’s nose cone was closed to prepare for atmospheric re-entry. The recovery operations team, including helicopters, boats, and ships, was on standby to assist with the recovery process.

Two fast boats and the recovery personnel inside them secured the Dragon and helped move it onto the recovery platform of the recovery ship using rigging equipment and hydraulic lifts.

Word of gratitude

Crew-6 commander NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen expressed his gratitude for the support received throughout the mission, emphasising the importance of teamwork and communication during the journey. Bowen was the first to be assisted to egress from the spacecraft, followed by NASA astronaut and Crew-6 pilot Warren Woody Hoburg, Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev and finally Al Neyadi.

The crew members wore big smiles and showed thumbs-up signs as they briefly set foot on the recovery vessel, after six months of floating in microgravity.

They were then taken out in rolling chairs that looked like gurneys to the medical bay. They were carefully examined by medical personnel on board the recovery vessel Megan, ensuring they were in good health and ready for the transition from microgravity to Earth’s gravity.