SpaceX Splashdown: Four astronauts are returning from the International Space Station in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, bringing their five-month journey to the orbital laboratory to a close. The astronauts set a new record for the maximum time spent in orbit by a crew on a spacecraft designed in the United States.
The crew climbed aboard their spacecraft on Saturday evening, which had been docked to the space station’s docking ports since the astronauts landed in November. At 8:37 p.m. ET, they de-docked from the ISS and will stay the evening in their capsule as it free flies through space. The spacecraft will fire up its on-board engines to begin a safe descent back into the Earth’s thick atmosphere, and it will use a set of parachutes to slow its descent before SpaceX splashdown off the coast of Florida around 2:57 a.m. ET Sunday morning.
A brigade of rescue ships will be placed in the Gulf of Mexico to welcome the crew as the vehicle glides toward the ocean with a plume of four massive parachutes billowing overhead. The astronauts will then be flown back to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, which serves as the home base for all American astronauts.
The recovery teams will make every effort to return as rapidly as practical. The bobbing waves can cause extreme seasickness in astronauts during ocean splashdowns. When asked what meal he was looking forward to when he returned home, NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins admitted that he probably won’t be in the mood for a fine dining experience.
“If I have an appetite, that’s going to be a bonus,” Hopkins said during a remote press conference Monday.
Officials are keeping a watchful eye on the water in the area for any potential intruders. A crowd of unidentified, flag-waving boats encroached on the recovery area during the Crew Dragon Demo-2 splashdown in August. However, Coast Guard crews are reportedly deployed around the perimeter in the hopes of avoiding a repetition of the incident.
The capsule has a functioning toilet, and the astronauts — NASA’s Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi, a Japanese astronaut — will have time to sleep as the completely autonomous vehicle orbits as SpaceX and NASA authorities in Houston, Texas, and Hawthorne, California, keep an eye on the journey.
The crew’s arrival on Sunday would bring an end to a historic mission for NASA and SpaceX: It is the Crew Dragon spacecraft’s first fully operational crewed flight, following a test mission to the space station in May that carried NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, both test pilots.
SpaceX splashdown – Following the return of Behnken and Hurley from SpaceX’s Demo-2 flight in August, this is just the second time SpaceX and NASA have ever taken astronauts home on a Crew Dragon spacecraft. Reentry, according to Behnken, was the most harrowing part of the journey back.