The first private astronaut crew returns to Earth from the Space Station

The first private crew of astronauts to visit the International Space Station (ISS) has returned safely to Earth.

The team flew to the ISS and returned on the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The SpaceX company vehicle landed as planned in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida on Monday. SpaceX also provided the Falcon 9 rocket that carried the team into orbit.

The return to Earth marked the end of a two-week science assignment aboard the ISS. The flight was the first to be organized and operated by a private company involving a commercial astronaut crew.

“Welcome to planet Earth,” SpaceX Mission Control said in a radio message to the crew. “We hope you enjoyed the few extra days in space.”

The ISS mission was to last a little over a week. But weather conditions kept the crew in space for more than two weeks.

Before leaving the space station on Sunday evening, the group thanked its seven ISS hostsincluding three NASA astronauts whose own mission will soon end.

The crew was led by Michael Lopez-Alegria, a retired astronaut from the US space agency NASA. He now works as vice president of Axiom Space, which organized and operated the ISS mission.

This file photo provided by SpaceX shows the AXIOM crew seated in the Dragon spacecraft Friday, April 8, 2022 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (SpaceX via AP, File)

Lopez-Alegria, 63, was described as the mission commander. He was joined by mission pilot Larry Conner, a 72-year-old businessman and private pilot from Ohio. The other members were Eytan Stibbe, a 64-year-old Israeli fighter pilot, and Mark Pathy, 52, a Canadian businessman. Stibbe and Pathy served as mission specialists.

After being helped out of the capsule, the crew members were picked up by a recovery ship and given a quick medical examination. The team was then flown to NASA Florida for more detailed medical examinations.

“Everyone is looking great and doing reasonably well,” Axiom COO Derek Hassmann told reporters. He described the astronauts as being “in good spirits”.

Connor called the experience “surprising mission.” Lopez-Alegria said his “adventureon board the ISS was “even longer and more exciting” than he imagined.

Pathy said the mission was “revealing in many ways” and would surely be “lasting impact on my life.

The crew of Axiom's Ax-1 mission to the International Space Station is shown in this undated photo.  Left to right, Larry Connor, Michael Lopez-Alegria, Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe.  (Courtesy of SpaceX/Axiom Space)

The crew of Axiom’s Ax-1 mission to the International Space Station is shown in this undated photo. Left to right, Larry Connor, Michael Lopez-Alegria, Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe. (Courtesy of SpaceX/Axiom Space)

The mission was hailed by Axiom, NASA and industry officials as a milestone in the latest expansion of commercial space activities.

“We have proven that we can prepare the crew in a way that makes them efficient and productive in orbit,” Hassmann said. “What this shows the world is that there is a new street to go to low Earth orbit.

In the past, the ISS has accepted some visits from private citizens. But the latest mission marked the first all-commercial team of astronauts sent to use the station as an orbiting laboratory. The crew brought 25 scientific and biomedical experiments to perform in orbit.

It was the sixth manned spaceflight for SpaceX in nearly two years. The company has a contract to fly three more Axiom astronaut missions to the ISS over the next two years. Axiom’s second flight is scheduled for next spring.

I am Brian Lynn.

The Associated Press and Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English.

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words in this story

assignment – nm a major project or trip, including space travel

commercial – adj. related to buying and selling things

host – nm a person who organizes a party or a special event

for the guests

surprising – adj. very surprising

adventure – nm an exciting and sometimes dangerous experience

impact – nm the effect that a person, event or situation has on someone or something

street – nm a possible way of doing or achieving something

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