SpaceX’s first astronauts return from International Space Station mission

American, Russian and Japanese test crew were the third, fourth and fifth crew to travel into space using SpaceX’s Crew Dragon

The first astronauts to use SpaceX’s Crew Dragon module for a test flight home from the International Space Station (ISS) have landed back on Earth after a 200-day mission that ended in NASA’s Mercury era, NASA said.

Astronauts Doug Hurley, who piloted Nasa’s previous capsules, and two Russian cosmonauts, Oleg Kononenko and Alexey Ovchinin, landed in the Atlantic Ocean shortly after the capsule touched down in Florida, marking the end of their demonstration mission, the US space agency said.

CBI Space at its Space Systems of Canada facility in Burnaby, B.C., prepares to send its Aerosonde spacecraft to orbit. Photograph: Nick Wooldridge/AP

“Welcome home,” said Mission Control commentator Rob Navias.

The astronauts used a robotic arm to make a port landing, about 100 miles off the Florida coast. Once aboard the space station, the crew unloaded cargo and filed out onto the deck of the station’s Zvezda service module, where they greeted veteran NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold, who had flown with them on Dragon.

The landing marked the culmination of the Crew Dragon demonstration mission, which ended on Monday with the capsule successfully jettisoning from the station.

SpaceX has been vying to serve as the only company with a permanent crew vessel since the US space shuttles were retired in 2011. Boeing has said it hopes to deliver astronauts to the space station in early 2020.

Nasa’s space shuttle was the successor for the Soviet Union’s legendary space vehicle, Soyuz. But the Russians have been the monopoly on carrying Russian crew members, while American teams have to travel aboard Russian spacecraft.

A U.S. Soyuz rocket is seen on a launch pad at Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome. Photograph: Sergei Savostyanov/AFP/Getty Images

Since 1967, NASA crews have taken orbital trips in manned spacecraft provided by the Soviet Union, the United States, the former Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, France, Japan and Canada. The US space shuttle that completed its 135th and final flight in 2011 was retired by Nasa.

SpaceX unveiled the concept of its commercial crew capsules in 2012 and has since tested them in California, Florida and Japan. The first test flight of a manned Dragon capsule to the ISS in April 2017 was aborted in the final minutes, however, due to a sensor problem.

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