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SpaceX capsule returns astronauts from space station

Four space station astronauts have returned to earth after a quick SpaceX flight home.

Their capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico just off the Florida coast near Tampa late on Saturday.

The United States-Russian-Japanese crew spent five months at the International Space Station, arriving last October.

Besides dodging space junk, the astronauts had to deal with a pair of leaking Russian capsules docked to the orbiting outpost and the urgent delivery of a replacement craft for the station's other crew members.

Led by NASA's Nicole Mann, the first Native American woman to fly in space, the astronauts checked out of the station early Saturday morning.

Less than 19 hours later, their Dragon capsule was bobbing in the sea as they awaited pick up.

Earlier in the week, high wind and waves in the splashdown zones kept them at the station for a few extra days.

Their replacements arrived more than a week ago.

"That was one heck of a ride," Mann radioed moments after splashdown.

"We're happy to be home."

Mann, a member of Northern California's Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, said she couldn't wait to feel the wind on her face, smell fresh grass and enjoy some delicious earth food.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata craved sushi, while Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina yearned to drink hot tea "from real cup, not from plastic bag".

NASA astronaut Josh Cassada's to-do list included getting a rescue dog for his family.

"Please don't tell our two cats," he joked before departing the space station.

Three Americans, three Russians and an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates remain at the space station.

Wakata, Japan's spaceflight champion, has logged more than 500 days in space across five missions dating back to NASA's shuttle era.