A four-member crew of astronauts that has been living on the International Space Station since April departed the orbiting outpost Monday to begin a roughly eight-hour return to Earth.
The crew left the station at about 11 a.m. California time aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour. The spacecraft, which is designed to operate autonomously, performed a series of fly-bys of the Space Station before beginning its descent to Earth.
The ship is tentatively scheduled to splash down into the ocean off the coast of Florida at about 7:30 p.m. California time.
The astronauts in SpaceX’s Crew-2 are NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
McArthur is a UCLA aerospace engineering graduate who has a doctorate in oceanography from UC San Diego, where she was a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography
The crew is making its return flight without one modern luxury on the Dragon capsule — a working toilet. A design defect caused a pipeline that carries urine to become detached, resulting in leakage beneath the ship’s floorboards. The issue was detected in September when Hawthorne-based SpaceX used a separate Dragon capsule to send four civilians into space.
The pipeline has been repaired on other Dragon capsules, but the Endeavour has been docked at the space station since April, and thus has not yet been fixed.
McArthur told reporters from the space station last week that the situation was “suboptimal” but manageable.
“We are prepared to manage that in the time that we’re on board Dragon on the way home,” she said. “Space flight is full of lots of little challenges. This is just one more that we’ll encounter and take care of in our mission. We’re not too worried about it. I think we have a good plan going forward.”
SpaceX will make another attempt this week to launch a replacement crew, dubbed Crew-3, to the space station in the Crew Dragon capsule Endurance. That launch has already been delayed multiple times, twice due to weather issues and once due to a minor medical issue involving one of the astronauts.
The launch is tentatively set for Wednesday.
Flying on that mission from Cape Canaveral in Florida will be NASA astronauts Raja Chari, mission commander, Tom Marshburn, pilot, and Kayla Barron, mission specialist; and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, also a mission specialist.
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