SpaceX astronauts prepare for return journey to Earth

James Marshall
August 3, 2020

After a review of the latest forecast for the waters off the coast of Florida, and taking into account the seven possible splashdown locations, it has been made a decision to proceed with plans to bring astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley back to earth aboard the SpaceX Endeavor Crew Dragon this weekend, now targeting for the departure to occur at 7:34 p.m. EDT, Saturday, Aug. 1, with splashdown estimated at 2:42 p.m. on Sunday Aug. 2.

NASA and SpaceX mission control teams in Houston, Texas and SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California gave the "go" call for Crew Dragon's deorbit burn, where the capsule commits to reentering Earth's atmosphere roughly one hour before it is due to splash down off Florida's Pensacola coast at 2:48 p.m. ET.

It was the final step in the mission created to test SpaceX's human spaceflight system - including launch, docking, splashdown and recovery operations.

Their spacecraft is nicknamed Endeavour.

Why it matters: The landing marks the end of SpaceX's first crewed trip to the space station for NASA and the beginning of the space agency's next phase in exploration, one marked by partnerships with private companies.

Tropical Storm Isaias, which had scuppered Endeavour's original landing site in the Atlantic, was nearing Florida's east coast Sunday morning, hundreds of miles away.

Behnken and Hurley aren't the only space travelers returning to Earth.

Watch the splashdown on the video above, or go to NASA TV. To keep the returning astronauts safe in the pandemic, the recovery crew quarantined for two weeks and were tested for the coronavirus. Both astronauts flashed thumbs-up when they were placed on stretchers as a safety measure.

"Thank you again from the Good Ship Endeavour", Behnken told mission controllers.

Flight surgeons helped the astronauts readjust to Earth's gravity after two months in zero-G. The astronauts will then be able to get out and will be checked by a medical staff before being flown to shore.

Behnken said Friday he was most excited to see his family and his 6-year-old son, saying, "He's changed a lot in the couple of months that we've been up here".

The next SpaceX Crew Dragon launch to the space station is scheduled for as early as next month.

SpaceX plans for the astronauts to exit the capsule within an hour after splashdown, at which point it will collect the capsule for re-use.

Bob and Doug's mission was originally to last around a week but was extended to over 60 days in order to bolster activity aboard the Station during a period of low crew operations which started in April 2020 with the undocking of Soyuz MS-13 and the end of Expedition 61. They are also bringing home an American flag left behind in 2011 by NASA's last space shuttle crew.

Behnken and Hurley are bringing back to Earth about 330 pounds of cargo, most of which is science and sampling hardware. Behnken pitched in on four spacewalks with Cassidy to upgrade the station's power system.

Hurley and Behnken arrived at the orbiting laboratory in the Crew Dragon May 31 following a launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30. That was the final flight of the Apollo spacecraft.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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