Crew Dragon, SpaceX’s capsule with two American astronauts on board, broke away from the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday to return to Earth, NASA said. Its landing is scheduled for Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico around 8:41 p.m. (Belgian time). “Separation confirmed. Dragon does four starting pushes to get away from the @Space_Station“, SpaceX tweeted after images showing the capsule leaving the craft on time and without a hitch.
The first astronauts to have reached the International Space Station (ISS) aboard an American aircraft in almost 10 years left Saturday, in the SpaceX capsule, to return to Earth, despite the risk of a hurricane in Florida.
“And off they go!Nasa tweeted announcing that Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley had left the ISS, after broadcasting images showing the capsule detaching slowly and smoothly from the craft in the darkness of space.
The docking was done on time, around 11:34 pm GMT, two months after the arrival of the two men aboard the capsule created by the company of the eccentric entrepreneur Elon Musk, the US space agency said, adding that this one took “a safe path“.
Return complicated by hurricane Isaias
The water landing is scheduled for Sunday at 14:41 (18:41 GMT) in the Gulf of Mexico. It has been maintained in western Florida as Tropical Storm Isaias, which could become a hurricane again, threatens the eastern coasts of the southeastern peninsula of the United States.
The US space agency continues to closely monitor the progress of Hurricane Isaias which, after hitting the Bahamas, comes closer to Florida. If the winds were too strong or the waves too high, this would complicate the arrival of the capsule, but also its safe recovery by pre-positioned ships.
A site off the town of Pensacola (in northern Florida) was identified as “priority“for ditching, with an alternative in front of Panama City, if the sea was too rough or the winds too strong.
A few hours earlier, the two astronauts had said goodbye to the three colleagues they left behind. “The hardest part was getting us into orbit, but the most important is getting us home“, said Bob Behnken a few hours from the deadline.
The operation is indeed delicate, even if last year, the Dragon capsule accomplished this mission empty and without incident. Atmospheric reentry will test the resistance of the heat shield. Then, you will have to rely on large parachutes to slow the descent to the ocean.
Dinosaur in zero gravity
Speaking to his son and that of his colleague, Bob Behnken held up a colorful little dinosaur, chosen by the children to accompany them in “this historic mission“and let it fly in zero gravity for a few moments.
“Tremor the Apatosaurus comes home with your dads!“, he told them, surrounded by his two Russian colleagues, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, and the head of the mission, Captain Chris Cassidy. “We say goodbye to our two friends and colleagues“, said the latter, saying to himself at the same time”sad“to see them go and”nice to meet you“that the ISS have new means”to bring and to leave“astronauts.
Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley became the first astronauts to be transported to the International Space Station, 400 km from Earth, by a private company, under contract with NASA. The flight, whose departure had already been postponed due to changing weather conditions, also marked the first manned flight launched from the United States since 2011, when the space shuttles were shut down. Americans have since been traveling on Russian rockets.
First of six scheduled round trips to the ISS
NASA has tasked SpaceX, which had been delivering cargo to the ISS since 2012, to develop a new space taxi, and if the current mission is certified safe, the Americans will no longer depend on the Russians for access to space.
For three billion dollars, granted since 2011 as part of a fixed price contract, SpaceX has promised NASA six round trips to the ISS, with four astronauts on board.
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet said this week that he will in turn travel aboard Space X’s Crew Dragon for his second mission to the ISS in spring 2021.