Four astronauts who flew to the International Space Station in November aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will embark on their return trip to Earth Friday, with high winds off the coast of Florida forcing a delay of a voyage that had been set for Wednesday.
The SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts were originally set to depart the space station at about 4 a.m. California time Wednesday, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico around 9:40 a.m. According to NASA, however, the return trip was delayed “following a review of forecast weather conditions in the splashdown zones off the coast of Florida, which currently predict wind speeds above the recovery criteria.”
The process of returning to Earth began Tuesday, with NASA astronaut and SpaceX Crew-1 member Shannon Walker formally transferring command of the space station to Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA. Hoshide was aboard the SpaceX Crew-2 mission that arrived at the space station early Saturday morning aboard the Crew Dragon spaceship Endeavour.
There are currently 11 total astronauts aboard the space station. But Friday afternoon, Walker and fellow NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi will crawl back into the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience for their return journey to Earth.
“It’s been an awesome adventure,” Glover — a Pomona native and Southern California resident — said following the change-of-command ceremony Tuesday. “It truly is a privilege to work and to live here, and to be able to do both makes this just a really unique experience. And so as the only rookie in the group, it was really an honor to become a part of an expedition and see what it’s like to fly the International Space Station. And I think 165-ish or so days, it flew by. It has really gone by quickly. I’m grateful for every day of it.”
Hopkins hailed the performance of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the impact private companies like SpaceX will have on space exploration.
“You can see that in terms of how it’s enabled the science on board the space station here by having more crew members on board,” he said. “The amount of science we’ve accomplished over the last six months, I think, is truly incredible.
“… Just seeing how it’s enabling the growth in the private space flight. This vehicle, our wonderful vehicle Crew Dragon Resilience, is scheduled to launch again with a private mission later this year. And so I think that’s another just benefit of what the commercial crew program has brought to human space exploration.”
The hatch of Resilience with the crew inside is expected to close at 12:50 p.m. California time Friday, with the spaceship scheduled to undock from the station at 2:55 p.m.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft is designed to undock autonomously — without assistance from the astronauts aboard — and begin the trip back to Earth. The ship is scheduled to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico at 8:36 a.m. California time Saturday, landing in one of seven pre-selected landing zones. The actual landing spot could vary depending on conditions during the return flight.
When the splashdown location is finalized, the U.S. Coast Guard will establish a 10-nautical-mile safety zone to accommodate the recovery operation.
“All of us, as you can imagine, are very excited about splashdown, about what it’s going to enable, and that’s the return to our families,” Hopkins said. “I think all of us are looking forward to that.”
The delay in the astronauts’ return does not mean SpaceX will be taking the day off on Wednesday. The company is scheduled to launch another batch of 60 internet satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral at 8:44 p.m. Wednesday, California time. It will be the latest deployment of what will eventually be thousands of Starlink satellites encircling the globe, with the goal of providing low-cost internet service to under-served areas.
The Falcon 9 rocket being used in the launch has flown six previous missions, and SpaceX will attempt to recover its first stage again on a floating barge dubbed “Just Read the Instructions” in the Atlantic Ocean, allowing it to be reused in future missions.
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