4 SpaceX astronauts return to Earth from 6-month mission

An astronaut team launched by SpaceX to the International Space Station has safely returned to Earth early on Friday.

The team’s SpaceX capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida to end months of orbital research.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule dubbed Endurance was carrying three U.S. NASA astronauts and a European Space Agency (ESA) crewmate from Germany.

The Endurance crew began its stay in orbit on Nov. 11.

The crew consisted of American spaceflight veteran Tom Marshburn, 61, and three first-time astronauts: NASA’s Raja Chari, 44, and Kayla Barron, 34, and their ESA colleague Matthias Maurer, 52.

The crew members were assisted onto special gurneys as they waved and gave thumbs-up for cameras.

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

The newly returned astronauts were officially designated as NASA’s “Commercial Crew 3,” the third full-fledged, long-duration team of four that SpaceX has flown to the space station under contract for the U.S. space agency.

SpaceX, founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of electric carmaker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O), who recently clinched a deal to buy Twitter (TWTR.N), supplies the Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules now flying NASA astronauts to orbit from U.S. soil.

The company also controls those flights and handles the splashdown recoveries, while NASA furnishes the crews and launch facilities at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and manages U.S. space station operations.