[News] Crew of first private flight to ISS return to Earth


Three businessmen and a former Nasa astronaut splashed down on Monday off the Florida coast after spending two weeks aboard the International Space Station in a landmark mission for the commercial sector.

After a dizzying descent, a SpaceX Dragon capsule carrying the Axiom-1 gently floated down to the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville at 1:06pm local time on four huge parachutes.

"Dragon Endeavour has returned home with the Axiom-1 Crew," said an announcer, as a recovery vessel made its way to the capsule.

The spaceship was affectionately referred to as a "toasted marshmallow" because of the scorch marks on its heat shield from re-entering the atmosphere at 28,000 kilometres per hour.

It marks the official end of the first fully-private mission to the orbiting outpost – and a turning point in US space agency Nasa's goal to commercialise the region of space called low Earth orbit.

"Welcome home, Axiom-1!" tweeted Nasa chief Bill Nelson. "#Ax1 and all of the progress we've seen in the commercial space sector wouldn't be possible without Nasa's collaboration with private industry."

Axiom Space paid SpaceX for transport services and Nasa for use of the ISS, while charging the three tycoons a reported US$55 million each for the privilege.

American real estate mogul Larry Connor, Canadian financier Mark Pathy and Israeli impact investor Eytan Stibbe, along with veteran Spanish-American astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, had blasted off on April 8.

On board the ISS, which orbits 400 kilometres above sea level, the quartet carried out research projects, including an MIT technology demonstration of smart tiles that form a robotic swarm and self-assemble into space architecture.

Another experiment involved using cancer stem cells to grow mini tumours, then leveraging the accelerated aging environment of microgravity to identify early changes in those tumours, to help improve screening methods. (AFP)

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