Highlights

  • Three businessmen returned from the ISS after NASA's first private space flight
  • Flight marks NASA's debut in private space exploration
  • The crew travelled in a SpaceX rocket

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It was the first time NASA opened its space hatches to tourists after shunning the practice perfected over the decades by Russia.

Three rich businessmen returned from the International Space Station with their astronaut escort Monday, wrapping up a pricey trip that marked NASA's debut as a B&B host.

Flying back in a SpaceX capsule, they splashed down in the Atlantic off the Florida coast to close out a 17-day tour that cost them $55 million apiece.

The trip was supposed to last a little over a week, but dicey weather kept the visitors in orbit almost twice as long as intended.

"Welcome back to planet Earth," radioed SpaceX Mission Control from Southern California. "We hope you enjoyed the extra few days in space."

"Amazing mission," said real estate tycoon Larry Connor.

Before departing the space station Sunday night, the group thanked their seven hosts, including three NASA astronauts whose own mission is nearing an end.

Also watch: Could NASA’s plan to beam Earth’s location trigger an alien invasion?

It was the first time NASA opened its space hatches to tourists after shunning the practice perfected over the decades by Russia.

Last fall, a Russian film crew flew up, followed by a Japanese fashion mogul and his assistant. In each case, an active-duty cosmonaut traveled with them.

The latest guests were accompanied by a former NASA astronaut now working for Axiom Space, the Houston company in charge of the flight, making it the first fully private trip to the space station.

After hosting longer than expected, NASA was itching to make room for the next crew.

SpaceX will attempt to launch three NASA astronauts and one Italian to the space station as soon as Wednesday.

They'll replace the three Americans and a German up there since November who will head back to Earth in their own SpaceX capsule.

Axiom handled the logistics for the trip for its three paying customers: Connor from Dayton, Ohio; Canadian private equity CEO Mark Pathy; and Israeli investor Eytan Stibbe of Tel Aviv.

Their chaperone was Michael López-Alegría, an Axiom vice president who flew to space four times while a NASA astronaut.

Axiom teamed up with SpaceX for the journey that began with an April 8 liftoff from NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

It was SpaceX's second private flight, coming just months after a billionaire's orbital jaunt with contest winners.

While in space, the visitors did experiments and peered back at Earth.

Axiom's second flight is set for early next year as the company looks ahead to having its own space station by 2030.

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