Four astronauts take redeye home to Earth.
Kl. At 20.35 Eastern time on Saturday, a crew of four – three NASA astronauts and one from Japan’s space agency – pushed off from the International Space Station in a capsule built by SpaceX.
“Thank you for your hospitality, sorry we stayed a little longer,” said Michael Hopkins, the dragon’s resistance commander, referring to the weather-delayed departure of the flight. “We see you back on Earth.”
The astronauts will circulate around the planet a number of times over the hours that follow until they spray down early Sunday morning in the Gulf of Mexico south of Panama City, Fla.
When will the astronauts spray down on Earth?
The approximate timing of the splash is at. 02:57 Eastern time Sunday. SpaceX reported in an update Saturday afternoon that the weather remained favorable for a landing.
The agency has scheduled a news conference with NASA, SpaceX and other officials until 6 p.m. 5 Sunday.
NASA and SpaceX stream live coverage of these operations on NASA TV, or you can watch the video in the player embedded above.
What happens during the astronauts’ journey home?
It’s going to be a long trip. The astronauts boarded the crew kite, and the hatch closed at. 18:26, but then more than two hours passed before the capsule left, as the astronauts checked that there were no air leaks from either the capsule named Resilience or the space station. Resilience is released autonomously at 8:35 p.m., and then performed a series of thruster launches to move away from the space station.
SpaceX confirmed that the slider of the thruster was terminated at. 10:17. The capsule will now circulate around the plant until Florida sets up in the correct position to spray down into the Gulf of Mexico.
Just before 2 in the morning, as it prepares for its return to Earth, the crew dragon will jet what SpaceX calls the “trunk” part of the spacecraft – the cylindrical space beneath the gumpdrop-shaped capsule. The trunk burns up in the atmosphere.
Five minutes after the trunk is loosened, the capsule will shoot its thrusters to fall out of orbit.
When it is low enough in the Earth’s atmosphere, parachutes will be inserted to gently lower the capsule into the ocean.
What do astronauts experience during a water landing?
Spacecraft can safely return to Earth on water or land.
During the 1960s and 1970s, NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo sprayed capsules into the ocean, while Soviet capsules all ended their trips ashore. Russia’s current Soyuz capsules continue to land on land, as do China’s astronaut-bearing Shenzhou capsules.
NASA returned to water landings on August 2, 2020, when the first crew to return to Earth in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule – the same one that carried astronauts to the space station last week – sprayed down near Pensacola, Fla.
Returning from the free fall environment of the orbit to the normal gravitational forces on Earth is often disorienting for astronauts. A water landing adds the possibility of seasickness.
During a news conference last year, Douglas Hurley, a member of the former crew that completed a water landing in the SpaceX capsule, said he had read reports from astronauts from NASA’s Skylab missions, some of the last in front of him making water landings. “There were some challenges after the splashdown,” he said. “People did not feel good, and you know, that’s how it is with a water landing, even if you are not unconditionally as we become.”
Sir. Hurley acknowledged that vomiting would not be unexpected.
“There are bags if you need them and we have them handy,” he said. He added that “if that were to happen, it would certainly not be the first time it had happened in a spacecraft.”
Is it safe to land in the sea at night?
US spacecraft have not made a night landing of astronauts since Apollo 8, NASA says.
This crew arrived before dawn on December 27, 1968 approx. 1000 miles southwest of Hawaii. The Times the next day called it “an exact splashdown” and noted that the crew remained in their capsule for about 90 minutes before being fished out of the Pacific Ocean by a helicopter crew from the USS Yorktown. William Anders, the mission’s pilot for the lunar module, said over the radio while in the capsule: “Get us out of here, I’m not a sailor on this boat.” (James Lovell, his crew member, had been a captain in the U.S. Navy.)
SpaceX has been practicing working at night, and in January it successfully recovered a cargo capsule that sprayed into the Gulf of Mexico, west of Tampa Bay.
An advantage of a landing at night may be that there are probably fewer private boats. That was a problem in August when the former SpaceX capsule sprayed down. More than a dozen boats – one of those flying a Trump campaign flag – converged on the sunken capsule, and a few went in to take a closer look.
The episode raised concerns among NASA and SpaceX officials about safety and security procedures. If there had been an emergency, NASA officials said, private boats could have prevented recovery efforts. They added that there could have been toxic fumes from the capsule that posed a risk to the boat people.
To avert such a result, the Coast Guard will this time set up a safety zone of 11.5 kilometers around the splashdown site and chase all interlopers away.
What is the risk of space debris for astronauts?
Typically, the risk of space debris hitting a spacecraft going to or from the space station is small. It’s generally a fairly short trip – about a day – and a spacecraft like the Crew Dragon is quite small, so it’s not a big target for a random piece of debris.
But when another group of astronauts, Crew-2, was launched last week in another crew dragon, they had a bit of a scare when mission control at SpaceX headquarters in California told them there was a piece of debris on their way. They put their spacesuits back on and got back in their seats just in case the spacecraft was hit, which could cause pressure relief of the capsule.
Mission control then delivered a reassuring update: Further analysis showed that the closest approach to space debris was not so close to everyone. As a precaution, the astronauts were still waiting until they were told that space debris had passed.
The next day, a NASA spokesman said the debris had passed at a distance of 45 km – not very close at all.
Then the U.S. Space Command, which tracks orbits dirt, made a more confusing update: The piece of dirt that allegedly passed the crew dragon never existed at all. A spokeswoman for space command said a review was underway to determine what caused the false warning.
Who are the astronauts?
There are four astronauts on Crew-1:
Victor Glover, 45, selected by NASA in 2013 to be an astronaut, is on his first space flight. He is also the first black NASA astronaut to be a member of a space station crew.
Michael S. Hopkins, 52, a colonel in the United States Space Force, is in charge of the flight. (Colonel Hopkins is also the first member of the newly created US space force to go into space.) He was one of the nine astronauts selected by NASA in 2009. He has made a previous trip to the International Space Station in 2013-14, spends 166 days in orbit.
Soichi Noguchi, 56, an astronaut with JAXA, the Japanese space agency, is nearing the end of his third journey into space. He was a member of the crew of the space shuttle Discovery in 2005, at the first shuttle launch after the loss of Columbia and its seven astronauts more than two years earlier.
During this visit to the International Space Station, Mr. Noguchi three spacewalks. It included one to test techniques developed to repair damage to the heat chips on the space shuttle similar to that which had condemned Columbia when it recaptured Earth’s atmosphere. In 2009-10, he spent five months in orbit as a member of the space station crew.
Shannon Walker, 55, has had a previous period at the space station in 2010. Dr. Walker holds a doctorate in space physics from Rice University, where she studied how the solar wind interacted with the atmosphere of Venus.
What have the astronauts done on board the space station?
The space station has been a little more crowded than usual since another SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, Endeavor, docked on Saturday, April 24th. That brought the station’s crew to 11, the largest number of astronauts on board since the space shuttles stopped flying (the record for most on board is 13). The four astronauts leave behind seven astronauts – three from NASA, two from the Russian space agency Roscosmos, one from the European Space Agency and one from JAXA.
But while there, they conducted scientific experiments, including tissue chips that mimicked human organs and cultivated radishes and other vegetables. They also performed space walks to install equipment on the outside of the space station, including to prepare it for new solar panels.
And just before they left, Mr. Glover is celebrating his 45th birthday in orbit.
Other astronauts also enjoy their last moments in orbit with photos posted on Twitter.
What happens after a safe landing?
If the landing is similar to the return in August last year, SpaceX personnel will go to the capsule, check that it is intact and not leaking any toxic propellant and recycle the parachutes.
A larger recovery vessel will pull the capsule out of the water. The hatch is then opened for the four astronauts to come out.
After medical check-ups, the astronauts will head to the coast. From there, they will fly to Houston. The capsule will be taken to Cape Canaveral, where it will be refurbished for another flight into space.