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SpaceX returns 4 astronauts to Earth, ending 200-day flight |  KTAB

CAP CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – Four astronauts returned to Earth on Monday, returning home with SpaceX to end a 200-day mission to the space station that began last spring.

Their capsule raced across the night sky like a dazzling meteor before parachuting into the Gulf of Mexico off Pensacola, Florida. Salvage boats quickly moved with searchlights.

“On behalf of SpaceX, welcome home to planet Earth,” SpaceX mission control sent by radio from southern California. Within an hour, the four astronauts were out of the capsule, exchanging punches with the team on the recovery ship.

Their return – barely eight hours after leaving the International Space Station – paved the way for SpaceX to launch their four replacements on Wednesday evening.

The new arrivals were to be launched first, but NASA changed the order due to bad weather and the undisclosed medical condition of an astronaut. Reception duties will now fall to the American alone and the two Russians left at the space station.

Ahead of Monday afternoon’s undocking, German astronaut Matthias Maurer, who is awaiting the launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, tweeted that it was a shame the two crews did not overlap at the space station but “we hope you will leave everything tidy “. This will be SpaceX’s fourth crew flight for NASA in just a year and a half.

NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide and Frenchman Thomas Pesquet should have been back on Monday morning, but high winds in the recovery area delayed their return.

“One more night with this magical view. Who could complain? I will miss our spaceship! Pesquet tweeted on Sunday alongside a brief video showing the space station illuminated in the darkness of space and the twinkling city lights on the night side of Earth.

From the space station, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei – halfway through a year-long flight – said goodbye to each of his departing friends, telling McArthur “I’ll miss hearing. your laughs in the adjacent modules ”.

Before leaving the neighborhood, the four took a tour around the space station, taking photos. It was a first for SpaceX; NASA shuttles did this all the time before they retired ten years ago. The last flight over a Russian capsule dates back three years.

It was not the most comfortable return. Their capsule toilets were broken, so astronauts had to rely on diapers for the eight-hour trip home. They shrugged their shoulders at the end of last week as yet another challenge in their mission.

The first problem arose shortly after their April takeoff; Mission control warned that a piece of space debris threatened to collide with their capsule. It turned out to be a false alarm. Then, in July, thrusters from a newly arrived Russian lab inadvertently fired and sent the station into a spin. The four astronauts took refuge in their docked SpaceX capsule, ready to make a hasty departure if necessary.

Among the optimistic milestones: four spacewalks to improve the station’s solar power, a cinematic tour of a Russian film crew and the first-ever space harvest of chillies.

The next crew will also spend six months up there, welcoming back-to-back tour groups. A Japanese tycoon and his personal assistant will be taken over by the Russian Space Agency in December, followed by three businessmen arriving via SpaceX in February. SpaceX’s first private charter flight, in September, bypassed the space station.

Kathy Lueders, NASA’s head of space operations, said engineers would assess the inflation delay of one of the four main parachutes, which was observed during testing when the lines regroup. Overall, however, “the return looked flawless”.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to see the four crew members back on Earth,” she added, “and I can’t wait to kick off another round of four this week. “

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The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Science Education at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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