After a busy two months in space, the first two NASA astronauts to visit the International Space Station in a new vehicle are ready to return to Earth – if the weather cooperates.
Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken arrived at the International Space Station on May 31, the day after they became the first astronauts launched from Florida hidden in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. But this weekend, they have to tackle one of the most challenging aspects of the mission: leaving the space station, spending hours in the same capsule, skydiving through the Earth’s atmosphere and splash down off the coast of Florida.
Hurley and Behnken are currently scheduled to climb into the Crew Dragon capsule on Saturday (August 1) and close on Sunday (August 2). Their initial target for splashes is in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida’s Panama City, NASA officials have said.
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The splash procedure marks the last hurdle for the duo’s mission, dubbed Demonstration 2and marks the final test of SpaceX’s commercial crew system. After a safe return, the company should be clear to launch regular assignments to the circuit laboratory.
Each step in the Demo-2 mission has been one evaluation of the new spaceshipand both Behnken and Hurley and the NASA leadership have emphasized throughout the mission that it has been a test flight. The astronauts’ job has been to know all aspects of the vehicle and make sure it is ready for regular use by the crew members, but it also means that they have been guinea pigs of some kind during the mission, and this also applies to their return, although the astronauts said that they are unpleasant.
“As we get closer, I think we’re really focusing more and more on our preparations to be ready for the splashdown activities,” Behnken said. “I still do not feel nervous about it.”
For decades, American astronauts returning from space have touched land, either in a runway like those performed by NASA’s space shuttles or in a parachute landing like the Russian Soyuz capsules. The last American crew to return to the sea did so 45 years ago, at the end of Apollo-Soyuz test project missions where astronauts met Soviet cosmonauts in orbit.
“The water landing part of it is quite challenging from a physiological point of view, right after returning from being in microgravity on the order of one to two months,” Hurley said. “Land law is fully aware of the challenges of a water landing and what it does to the human body and we only take it from there.”
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Although NASA is keen to see the Demo-2 capsule escape, the return trip schedule is not in stone. NASA and SpaceX will base the timing of the process on a variety of weather and ocean criteria on which of these seven splashdown sites the team ends up in the direction.
Right now, these conditions look tricky. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Hurricane Center monitors a system called Hurricane Isaias as it tumbles through the Caribbean Sea, en route to Florida.
From this morning, forecasts predict The storm comes up on Florida’s east coast throughout the day on Sunday, possibly leaving safe conditions on the Gulf Coast, where four of the seven potential sites are located.
The astronauts said that they leave the weather problems to the personnel on the ground and are ready to do what the mission control advises. “We do not control the weather and we know we can stay here longer,” Behnken said. “There’s more chow and I know the space station program has more work we can do for them [researchers] and other people who have sent science here to the space station. “
A safe return for Demo-2 is the last piece of the puzzle for NASA approval of SpaceX’s next manned launch, the company’s first full-length mission to the space station. Named Crew-1, it the mission is currently being addressed launched at the end of September.
Instr-1 will carry three NASA astronauts – Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker – and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi to the space station for a stay of more than six months that will put the orbit of the laboratory’s staff bill to seven.
NASA also recently announced staffing for the next mission, Instr-2, which will see American astronauts Megan McArthur (who is married to Behnken) and Shane Kimbrough, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European astronaut Thomas Pesquet blow off Earth in 2021. That mission will use the same Endeavor Crew Dragon capsule as Demo -2 crew.
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