Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley strapped into Crew Dragon prior to the launch scrub May 27.


SpaceX

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 now they’re ready to come home as early as Sunday, if the weather doesn’t force a delay. 

The return to Earth takes some time, and NASA will be there along the way with a livestream on NASA TV

Stormy weather at the potential splashdown sites in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico could complicate the schedule. As of Saturday morning, NASA was sticking to the plan with an eye on a water landing off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. The agency is continuing to monitor the potential impact of Hurricane Isaias. 

“SpaceX will make the final decision to proceed after the astronauts are ready inside Crew Dragon just before undocking,” NASA said in an update on Saturday.

While the timing details could change, NASA has set the following coverage schedule for the major milestones:

Saturday, Aug. 1:

  • Undocking coverage starts at 2:15 p.m. PT ahead of the 4:34 p.m. departure.

Sunday, Aug. 2:

  • Splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico is targeted for 11:42 a.m. PT. 
  • Post-splashdown news conference set for 2 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. 

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.



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