The SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission has been smooth sailing so far for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley successfully launched to the International Space Station in late May and are now on their way back to Earth.
Crew Dragon successfully undocked from the International Space Station at 4:35 p.m. PT on Saturday. NASA has been broadcasting the return process through a livestream on NASA TV.
Stormy weather at the potential splashdown sites in the Gulf of Mexico could complicate the schedule. NASA and SpaceX are planning on a water landing off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, on Sunday while continuing to monitor any impact from Hurricane Isaias.
NASA tweeted on Saturday that Behnken and Hurley have several days of food on board in case they need to stay in orbit longer because of bad weather at the splashdown site.
Though the timing details could change, NASA has set the following coverage schedule for the major milestones on Sunday, Aug. 2:
- Splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico is targeted for 11:48 a.m. PT.
- Post-splashdown news conference is set for 1:30 p.m. PT.
The reentry process is dramatic. “Crew Dragon will be traveling at orbital velocity prior to reentry, moving at approximately 17,500 miles per hour. The maximum temperature it will experience on reentry is approximately 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit,” said NASA in a statement on July 24.
A SpaceX recovery vessel will meet Crew Dragon (which the astronauts named Endeavour) to collect the spacecraft and parachutes from the water. Endeavour will be hoisted onto the ship and Behnken and Hurley will be greeted by a medical team.
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There’s a lot riding on a safe, uneventful return for Crew Dragon. “This is SpaceX’s final test flight and is providing data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, splashdown and recovery operations,” NASA said in a release.
If Crew Dragon passes these final tests, then SpaceX will be able to provide regular, operational flights to the ISS starting later this year. And it would end NASA’s reliance on Russian spacecraft for the first time since the shuttle era.