Image copyright EPA Image caption The returning rocket has landed successfully on a drone ship and hit the water at a maximum speed of 17 miles per hour
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and two reusable rocket parts have returned to Earth from the International Space Station to end a successful mission for the US astronauts.
The mission was the first under the Commercial Crew program, which aims to bring US astronauts to the ISS.
Crew Dragon, which carried the crew, landed successfully at 4.16pm GMT.
It brought the astronauts back to Earth for the first time since December when NASA lost communication with the external spacesuit pod.
Completing the mission with a successful landing is part of the programme’s larger objective of taking astronauts back to the space station, which has been under construction since 2012.
“I said if we succeed in this mission, we’re gonna actually achieve what we thought we were trying to do in the first place, which is a perfectly flight-ready vehicle,” the crew said.
SpaceX have a 100% record of successful landing missions
Three crew members blasted off on 27 June aboard Crew Dragon, carrying 3,000 pounds of supplies and experiments that will be used while the spacecraft is docked.
“For us to be able to work in space and explore, we have to bring ourselves safely back to Earth,” said Cady Coleman, a Nasa astronaut who is part of the crew and will remain at the ISS for a year after its mission concludes.
“This is important to us, and so we’re not gonna miss it.”
According to Cydonie Johnston, a former ISS crew member on the previous trip, who flew on the same SpaceX mission as Ms Coleman, the whole landing sequence took less than a minute.
“Rockets are scary. When you see the rocket rise toward the Earth with the sparkle of lithium on its nozzle and you can see when you jump on it, you’re like ‘woah, there’s some magic going on here’,” she said in a press conference in June.
Award win for Elon Musk
The SpaceX mission was also the first of many testing opportunities under the programme.
President Trump and Space Exploration Technologies Corp founder Elon Musk oversaw the US return to space for the first time in three years during the launch.
Image copyright SpaceX Image caption The SpaceX rocket will undergo analysis for the next two months
Dr Trump congratulated Mr Musk during the mission for receiving the prestigious Gordon Cooper Award, an annual prize that recognises those “for outstanding achievements in the fields of aeronautics and astronautics”.
After landing successfully at sea, Crew Dragon undocked from the ISS at 10:31 BST and undocked itself safely later on Saturday.
A “clean-up” period for engineers to analyse the rocket is currently under way, and they will consider over the next two months whether the Falcon 9 and its associated parts should be reused again, or scrapped.
The United States is still a long way from resolving the challenge of transporting its astronauts to and from the ISS.
Building the commercial crew programme was the first of a number of SpaceX missions the US will be required to carry out in order to fulfil a requirement of having humans launch to the ISS.
Photo credit: NASA
But SpaceX is not the only US company involved in the programme.
It currently has a $2.6bn contract with NASA to carry astronauts on a single flight with a SpaceX rocket, but due to logistical delays, NASA’s goal will be to have two rovers ready to land on Mars by 2022.
The mission is the first of three under the NASA Commercial Crew Act, and the first cargo mission to the station with the vessel.