The first US astronauts to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) on an American spacecraft in nearly a decade are scheduled to return to Earth on Sunday.
Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley took off aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 30. Their undocking from the ISS is scheduled for approximately 7:34 pm (23:34 UTC) Saturday, and the splashdown at 2:42 pm (18:42 UTC) on Sunday.
The landing target will be on the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Florida’s Panama City, halfway between the cities of Tallahassee and Pensacola.
Just like the launch, the spaceship’s ride back will be wholly automated, with the crew and flight controllers intervening only if necessary.
But scientists will be closely monitoring the weather, as powerful storm Isaias, recently downgraded from a hurricane, barrels toward the eastern coast of Florida. NASA will make a final call on whether to proceed approximately six hours prior to undocking.
”We won’t leave the space station without some good landing opportunities in front of us, good splashdown weather,” astronaut Behnken told reporters Friday. ”We could stay up here longer. There’s more chow and I know the space station program’s got more work than we can do,” he added.
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The splashdown return will be the first one for US astronauts in 45 years. The astronauts said they’ll have seasick bags ready for the landing.
Since the early 1970s, NASA astronauts have usually felt unwell following splashdown, Hurley noted. Feeling sick ”is the way it is with a water landing,” he added.
After splashdown, they will have to wait an hour or so before the capsule is hauled by crane onto a SpaceX recovery ship, where the hatch will be opened. Flight surgeons will be among the dozens of the recovery team members on site.
The two crewmates said they were looking forward to going home after two months in space. “My son is six years old and I can tell from the videos that I get and from talking to him on the phone that he’s changed a lot,” Behnken said.
Behnken’s wife, NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, will be among four crew members expected to fly to space in the same, refurbished, capsule next spring. ”And, of course, I’ll have a lot of tips for her,” he said.
jcg/aw (AP, AFP)