A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying four astronauts splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico in the early hours of Sunday morning, in Nasa’s first night-time ocean landing since the Apollo 8 Moon mission in 1968.
The crew reported feeling well after arriving back on Earth at the end of an almost six-month stay aboard the International Space Station, Nasa said.
Night vision imagery captured by one of Nasa’s experimental high-altitude research planes showed the capsule descending under its parachutes, landing safely off the coast of Panama City after a six-and-a-half-hour flight from the ISS.
“We welcome you back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX,” SpaceX’s Mission Control radioed moments after splashdown.
“For those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer programme, you’ve earned 68 million miles on this voyage.”
“We’ll take those miles,” said spacecraft commander Mike Hopkins. “Are they transferrable?”
SpaceX replied that the astronauts would have to check with the company’s marketing department.
Within a few minutes, Mr Hopkins reported he could see light from the approaching recovery boats out the capsule’s window.
He was the first to emerge after the hatch was opened, dancing as he set foot on deck.
"On behalf of Crew-1 and our families, we just want to say thank you ... It's amazing what can be accomplished when people come together. Y'all are changing the world. Congratulations. It's great to be back," Mr Hopkins said in a Nasa tweet.
“On behalf of Crew-1 and our families, we just want to say thank you...It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together. Y’all are changing the world. Congratulations. It’s great to be back.” – NASA Astronaut Mike Hopkins (@Astro_illini) pic.twitter.com/6Bxpwp79ly
Fellow Nasa astronauts Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Japan's Soichi Noguchi were the other three aboard.
"Welcome home Victor, Michael, Shannon, and Soichi, and congratulations to the teams at Nasa and SpaceX who worked so hard to ensure their safe and successful splashdown," said new Nasa administrator Bill Nelson.
"We've accomplished another incredible spaceflight for America and our commercial and international partners. Safe, reliable transportation to the International Space Station is exactly the vision that Nasa had when the agency embarked on the commercial crew programme."
The four astronauts flew to space last November as the crew on the first fully operational mission to the ISS aboard a vehicle made by Elon Musk's SpaceX, which has become Nasa's favoured commercial transportation partner.
The 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.
After medical checks, the four astronauts were due to be flown by helicopter to Pensacola to board a plane for Houston to be reunited with their friends and family, Nasa said.