SpaceX crew returns to Earth after 208-day mission to International Space Station

Boeing takes over as aerospace manufacturer for International Space Station with Soyuz launch

SpaceX returned four astronauts to Earth from the International Space Station for the final time on Tuesday after a 208-day mission, saying they had accomplished all their objectives.

The six-man crew began arriving at the space station in November 2014 and spent more than 220 million miles (354 million km) over 14 months aboard. The station is a $100bn research laboratory owned by 15 nations.

Approximately five hours after their Dragon capsule landed smoothly in the Atlantic, NASA said that the crew had landed unharmed and had successfully exited the ship via the hatch in the back.

The latest NASA spacewalk to be broadcast live from the ISS (@astro_mission31) Here comes @astro_johnlegend and an @nasa droid with open arms. #Spacewalk #SoyuzMissionD10

The team, which included two American astronauts and two Russians, was the last to be flown by the United States for the Station. That job is being taken over by Russia’s Soyuz capsule, which has carried crews since the Space Shuttle programme was retired in 2011.

Boeing will take over from Russia and use its own Dreamliner-sized spacecraft to resupply the station starting in late 2018, the company and NASA have said. The commercial service is in the development stage.

“We hit every milestone that we’ve set,” said Jeff Williams, commander of the mission. “We flew into orbital space, deployed all of our science and all the experiments and returned everything back to Earth, the planet.”

Astronaut Williams photo before descent

Williams, along with fellow US astronauts Randy Bresnik and Scott Tingle and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Alexander Misurkin, docked their capsule to the station on November 10, 2016.

Crowds gathered to watch the Dragon make its splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean after a decade-long mission. Thousands more swarmed to internet streaming channels and social media to watch it land by drone, successfully strapped to its landing gear, an autonomous craft.

The landing was broadcast live by Nasa on Space Twitter (their hashtag was #wokenupydam00), and later via live television stream on the NASA TV portal.

The ship on Friday docked at the space station, becoming the 15th commercial supply ship to deliver more than 3,500 pounds (1,700 kg) of supplies. NASA, meanwhile, has turned to private American companies to help reduce its expenditures and speed up launches.

Under a $3.9bn contract, SpaceX will spend about $141m this year to deliver food, supplies and science experiments to the Station, including a pair of Canadian-built canals that will allow astronauts to check for damage before returning to Earth.

SpaceX had delivered cargo in flight before the landing, including 400 pounds of supplies that have since flown back to Earth. Under its contract, NASA pays SpaceX $82m for each mission.

The four astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth in early May aboard a Soyuz capsule brought home by a Russian Soyuz craft, marking the end of NASA’s dependency on Russia to ferry US astronauts to the Space Station.

Boeing is due to fly its first crew in 2017 aboard its Starliner capsule.

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