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Mike Wall

SpaceX's Dragon reentry and splashdown with Ax-2 astronauts looks amazing in these nighttime photos and videos

space capsule floats in the ocean at night near a brightly lit recovery ship.

SpaceX's Dragon capsule Freedom splashed down off the Florida coast late Tuesday night (May 30), wrapping up the Ax-2 private astronaut mission.

Freedom's return to Earth was quite a sight, as footage posted on Twitter shows. For example, Stephanie Ivison shared a video of the capsule carving a bright orange slice into the skies above Oklahoma as it headed toward the Gulf of Mexico.

"Just streaked across the sky in Tulsa at about 9:55pm. Looks like something re-entering the atmosphere. Pretty neat!" Ivison wrote.

Related: Private Ax-2 astronauts get warm welcome on space station (video)
Read more: Ax-2 spaceflight with SpaceX: Updates

The Ax-2 SpaceX Dragon Freedom floats near a recovery ship shortly after splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico on May 30, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)

Twitter user TJ posted a short video as well, one that captured Freedom much closer to its splashdown site — and therefore much closer to the ground.

Freedom hit the water right on schedule, splashing down in the Gulf off Panama City, Florida, at 11:04 p.m. EDT (0304 GMT on May 31). The capsule was then met by a recovery ship and hauled onto it for the trip back to shore.

SpaceX documented this process and shared it with us, posting three photos on Twitter about 45 minutes after splashdown.

One of the shots — the main photo for this story, featured above — shows Freedom floating near its ride home, whose deck is outfitted with a striking array of green and red lights.

Recovery crews get the Ax-2 SpaceX Dragon capsule Freedom ready for transfer to a recovery ship shortly after its splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on May 30, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)

Another shot depicts recovery personnel tending to the capsule from a smaller craft, which presumably launched from the large recovery ship. 

The third shows Freedom — its once bright-white exterior now sporting a "toasted marshmallow" look from the heat of atmospheric reentry — safely aboard that ship.

The Ax-2 SpaceX Dragon capsule Freedom rests on a recovery ship shortly after its splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on May 30, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)

Ax-2 launched on May 21, carrying four people to the International Space Station (ISS). As its name suggests, Ax-2 is the second mission to the orbiting lab carried out by Houston-based company Axiom Space, after the pioneering Ax-1 flight in April 2022.

Ax-2 was commanded by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who is now director of human spaceflight at Axiom. The other three crewmembers were paying customer John Shoffner, Ali AlQarni and Rayyanah Barnawi.

AlQarni and Barnawi are members of Saudi Arabia's first astronaut class. They became the first Saudis ever to visit the ISS, and Ax-2 made Barnawi the first woman from the kingdom to reach the final frontier.

SpaceX will send two more Dragons to the orbiting lab soon, if all goes according to plan.

The company plans to launch a robotic cargo mission to the ISS on Saturday (June 3). And SpaceX's Crew-7 mission, which will send four astronauts to the orbiting lab for NASA, is scheduled to fly on the Crew Dragon Endurance in August. 

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