SpaceX capsule splashes down, returning 4 astronauts from Space Station

The fourth long-duration astronaut team launched by SpaceX to the International Space Station (ISS) safely returned to Earth on Friday, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida after nearly six months of research aboard the orbital outpost, reports.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule dubbed Freedom, carrying three U.S. NASA astronauts and an Italian crewmate from the European Space Agency, parachuted into the sea at the conclusion of a five-hour autonomous flight home from the ISS.

Splashdown under clear skies, at about 4:55 p.m. EDT (2055 GMT), was carried live by a joint NASA-SpaceX webcast.

Freedom began its stay in orbit on April 27. The crew consisted of NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, 49, fellow Americans Jessica Watkins, 34, and Bob Hines, 47, as well as Italy's Samantha Cristoferetti, 45, who was commander of their ISS expedition. Watkins became the first African-American woman to join a long-duration ISS mission.

In less than an hour, recovery teams had hoisted the heat-scorched Crew Dragon onto a retrieval vessel before opening the capsule's side hatch and helping the four astronauts out by one for their first breath of fresh air in more than 24 weeks.

Still garbed in their helmeted white-and-black spacesuits, their strength and balance left shaky from 170 days of weightlessness, the four crew were assisted onto special gurneys as they waved and gave thumbs-up for cameras.

Among those greeting them on the deck of the ship was the vessel's namesake, veteran NASA astronaut Megan McArthur.

Each of the returning astronauts was to receive a routine medical checkup aboard the ship before being flown by helicopter back to Florida.

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