NASA astronauts make recovery landing after SpaceX launch

Image copyright NASA Image caption Two of the astronauts returned to Earth just after 9pm BST

The US astronauts who blasted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida have touched down safely at the Atlantic port of Cape Canaveral.

The crew of three returned to Earth after the 13 July launch of their science mission, which took them to the International Space Station.

It marks the final launch and landing of a Falcon 9 rocket for the company founded by Elon Musk.

But it remains to be seen what impact the failure of the rocket will have on Space Exploration Technologies.

In the last weeks of the Nasa space shuttle programme, SpaceX’s partner Boeing made two uncrewed test flights of its own reusable rocket. SpaceX has been asked to conduct more tests on the smaller version of the rocket.

It has already started work on a new rocket that will begin with manned flights, although the Nasa contracts for those flights have not yet been signed.

SpaceX hopes to begin sending astronauts to the ISS on upgraded versions of the rockets by late 2021.

Image copyright AFP Image caption One of the astronauts named Mark Vande Hei was a missionary in Japan

SpaceX launched its last commercial crew for Nasa, Space X chief test pilot Gus Grissom, on 29 August. It was his third space mission.

But the SpaceX mission did not go smoothly.

During a pre-launch communication test, the Dragon capsule fell down to Earth following an unexplained motor failure. Two rocket stages were damaged in the process.

Seven days later, a member of the SpaceX launch team lost his grip as he backed out of a ramp, according to a report from The Verge website. The man crashed through the protective panes of the rocket’s first stage and was crushed.

The faulty steering system may have been a contributing factor in the accident, SpaceX has said. The lead NASA astronaut assigned to the mission, Douglas Hurley, was the only one to fly under the previous NASA programme. He was released from the space station last month.

Musk and NASA hope that by the end of the decade, there will only be one way for humans to travel into outer space – returning to low-Earth orbit aboard a new kind of reusable rocket.

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