SpaceX and Boeing astronauts touch down

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The ‘flight home’ comes after more than 200 days in space

Two of the first US astronauts to fly on a privately-owned spacecraft have returned to Earth after a four-month mission to the International Space Station.

Nathan Ulrich and Ricky Arnold were both due to land on Saturday in California, where they blasted off on October 19.

The three-man team will be conducting experiments in a “flight home” NASA has developed to speed up the return to Earth for crew members.

SpaceX and Boeing launched their commercial crew programmes in 2014.

Image copyright AFP Image caption The ground team at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, worked on the robotic spacecraft before the crew stepped aboard

They are competing with the Russians for the coveted International Space Station (ISS) slot for astronauts.

SpaceX pioneered commercial crew use of a modified Dragon spacecraft. Nasa bought the service from Boeing, which is using a modified version of its existing Starliner capsule.

Both companies hope to carry astronauts to the ISS by April – making both commercial providers the first space travel companies to do so since the last shuttles retired in 2011.

The two crew members on the SpaceX mission landed safely in California after a three-and-a-half-hour shuttle ride, the company has confirmed.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Astronaut Nate Ulrich, seen here on Twitter, may or may not have seen a deer-crossing on his drive back to Earth

Image copyright AFP Image caption Ricky Arnold experienced one of the most dramatic descents from space when he hit trouble with an emergency parachute

Image copyright AFP Image caption Nasa is updating the capsule’s seat technology for future trips, including humanoid robots and vision, gyroscopic and other sensors

During their mission, the two astronauts spent time in the ISS’ Destiny lab as well as conducting space walks, which meant the flight would have taken around 200 days.

Mr Ulrich, who became the first US man to be in space during the 1985 Challenger space shuttle mission, tweeted about an experience he may have not have expected.

He tweeted a picture of him stepping aboard the Dragon spacecraft, and wrote: “This morning I was asked if I saw deer crossing the road in San Diego. The answer was a flat no. Didn’t drive through that intersection. Did take a detour to avoid it. You do what you can in the face of nature.”

Image copyright AFP Image caption Rocket-powered Taurus XL rocket barge performs fire display ahead of SpaceX cargo mission landing in December

SpaceX launched the new craft into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on October 19.

The rocket left a liquid oxygen supply tank behind it as it reached a location 8.5km above sea level in California, where it is now parked.

The ship is designed to separate from the rocket and land vertically on a barge in the Pacific Ocean, a task SpaceX is aiming to complete as soon as possible.

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