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SpaceX brings NASA astronauts home safe in milestone mission

This handout photo, released courtesy of NASA, shows the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft as it lands with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on board in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, the US, on August 2, 2020. (Via AFP)

America's first crewed spaceship to fly to the International Space Station in nearly a decade returned safely to Earth on Sunday, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico.

The successful mission, carried out jointly by SpaceX and NASA, demonstrated that the United States once again has the capacity to send its astronauts to space and bring them back.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour's four main parachutes gently floated down to the water after the vessel landed off the coast of Pensacola at 2:48 pm (1848 GMT).

It was the first water landing for a crewed US spaceship since the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission.

Pilot Doug Hurley, one of two astronauts on board along with commander Bob Behnken, said: "It's truly our honor and privilege."

"On behalf of the NASA and SpaceX teams, welcome back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX," replied SpaceX's Mike Heiman, to laughter in the control room.

NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken prepare to disembark from their helicopter at Naval Air Station Pensacola after they landed in their SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, the US, on August 2, 2020. (NASA photo via Reuters)

A number of civilian boats swarmed the landing zone as a recovery ship sped to the scorched capsule and brought it aboard.

The hatch opening was briefly delayed as a team worked to stop a leak of rocket fuel vapor.

Around an hour after splashdown, the astronauts exited the capsule and now await a helicopter ride to shore, followed by a plane trip to Houston, where they will re-unite with their families.

(Source: AFP)

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