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SpaceX capsule with four astronauts back to earth, ending 200-day flight

SpaceX capsule with four astronauts back to earth, ending 200-day flight

A SpaceX capsule carrying four astronauts left the International Space Station bound for Earth on Monday after spending six busy months aboard the orbital outpost. (AFP)

A SpaceX capsule carrying four astronauts returned to Earth on Monday off the coast of Florida after ending a 200-day space station mission that began last spring.

The Dragon vehicle, dubbed Endeavour, parachuted into the sea as planned just after 10:30 p.m. EST on Monday (0330 GMT Tuesday), following a fiery re-entry descent through Earth's atmosphere carried live by a NASA webcast.

Thanks to its heat shield, the Dragon capsule was able to withstand the dizzying descent which was slowed by the Earth's atmosphere, as well as four huge parachutes.

A boat will retrieve the capsule, and the astronauts on board will be brought back to land via helicopter.

The astronauts in SpaceX's Crew-2 were NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet.

They boarded their Dragon, dubbed "Endeavour", and undocked from the ISS at 2:05 pm (12:35 am IST), NASA announced.

Endeavour then looped around the ISS for around an hour-and-a-half to take photographs, the first such mission since a Russian Soyuz spaceship performed a similar manoeuvre in 2018.

The crew also faced a final challenge on their journey home — they had to wear diapers after a problem was detected with the capsule's waste management system, forcing it to remain offline.

They had no access to a toilet from the time their hatch closed at 12:40 pm (11:40 am IST on Tuesday) until after splashdown — around 10 hours.

"Of course that's sub-optimal, but we're prepared to manage," NASA astronaut Megan McArthur said at a press conference ahead of the departure.

"Space flight is full of lots of little challenges, this is just one more that we'll encounter and take care of in our mission."

SpaceX will make another attempt this week to launch a replacement crew, dubbed Crew-3, to the space station in the Crew Dragon capsule Endurance. That launch has already been delayed multiple times, twice due to weather issues and once due to a minor medical issue involving one of the astronauts.

The launch is tentatively set for Wednesday.

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