The first private astronaut crew to visit the International Space Station (ISS) has returned safely to Earth.
The team flew to the ISS and the crew returned to the spaceship Dragon. The SpaceX vehicle landed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida on Monday as planned. SpaceX also provided the Falcon 9 rocket that took the team into orbit.
Returning to Earth marks the end of a two-week science expedition to the ISS. The flight was the first to be operated and operated by a private company consisting of a fully professional astronaut crew.
“Welcome back to Earth,” SpaceX Mission Control said in a radio message to the crew. “We hope you enjoy the extra few days in space.”
The ISS mission was to last only a week. But weather conditions kept the crew at bay for more than two weeks.
Before leaving the space station on Sunday night, the group thanked their seven ISS hosts, including three NASA astronauts whose own missions will soon be over.
The crew was led by Michael Lopez-Allegria, a retired NASA astronaut. He now serves as vice president of Axiom Space, which organized and conducted the ISS mission.
The 63-year-old Lopez-Alegria took on the role of mission commander. He was accompanied by a mission pilot, Larry Connor, a 72-year-old businessman, and a private pilot from Ohio. Other members included 64-year-old Israeli man Etan Steebe, a fighter pilot, and 52-year-old Mark Pathi, a Canadian businessman. Stibbe and Pathy worked as mission experts.
After helping to get out of the capsule, the crew members were picked up by the recovery ship and given a quick health check. The team was then taken to NASA in Florida for a more detailed medical examination.
“Everyone looks great and works reasonably well,” Derek Hassman, Axiom’s director of operations, told reporters. He described the astronauts as “excellent souls”.
Connor called the experience an “amazing mission.” Lopez-Alegria said his “adventure” on the ISS was “even longer and more exciting” than he had imagined.
Pathi said the mission was “eye-opening in many ways” and would “definitely have a lasting effect on my life.”
The mission was hailed by Axiom, NASA and industry officials as a turning point in the latest expansion of commercial space activities.
“We’ve proven that we can build crews in a way that makes them effective and productive in the field,” Hasman said. “Shows the world that there is a new way to get into low-Earth orbit.”
In the past, the ISS has accepted some visits from private citizens. But the latest mission marks the first all-professional team of astronauts sent to use the station as a navigation laboratory. The crew brought 25 science and biomedical experiments into the orbit with them.
This was the sixth manned spaceflight for SpaceX in about two years. The company has a contract to fly three more Axiom astronauts on the ISS over the next two years. Axiom’s second flight is scheduled for next spring.