Science

Tropical storm may delay return of first SpaceX crew

Tropical storm may delay return of first SpaceX crew”

Two months after NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley made history by launching into space from US soil for the first time in almost a decade, the duo is slated to return to Earth this weekend - if bad weather doesn't thwart their spectacular homecoming. The capsule has been docked at the space station since May 31, allowing Hurley and Behnken to chip in with spacewalks and experiments.

However, a hurricane is due to hit Florida at the same time.

"We look forward to the weather forecasts that are coming out daily at this point, and they'll even get more frequent as we get closer to the actual splashdown", Behnken told reporters in an orbital news conference Friday.

He added that there is adequate food and other resources aboard the space station if the two need to extend their stay.

Astronauts Robert Behnken, left, space station commander Chris Cassidy, center, and Douglas Hurley field questions during a news conference Friday aboard the International Space Station.

On Wednesday, SpaceX and NASA cleared the Dragon crew capsule to depart the International Space Station and head home after a two-month flight.

If successful, the return will be a major milestone for human spaceflight, marking the first time that NASA astronauts have traveled to and from space aboard a commercially built spacecraft.

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NASA astronauts (from left) Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley and Chris Cassidy are the US members of the Expedition 63 crew aboard the International Space Station.

These have just been officially announced as NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet. The seven potential splashdown locations are off a mix of both eastern and western Florida coastal communities, namely Pensacola, Tampa, Tallahassee, Panama City, Cape Canaveral, Daytona and Jacksonville.

Weather permitting, NASA and SpaceX are targeting 2:42 p.m. EDT Sunday, Aug. 2, for the splashdown and conclusion of the Demo-2 test flight mission, which is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

Weather models show Hurricane Isaias' system track approaching the Florida coast at the approximate same time as SpaceX and NASA are planning the return and splashdown of the Demo-2 Crew Dragon capsule.

After the astronauts undock from the station, they can remain in the capsule for 24 to 48 hours before splashing down. The astronauts will then undergo medical checks before boarding a NASA plane back to Houston. After Behnken and Hurley return to Earth, their spacecraft will undergo a series of inspections in Florida to assess how the vehicle performed throughout its flight. "With this test flight, NASA and the USA aerospace industry are marking the first successful launch of a crew to the space station on a commercially built and operated American rocket and spacecraft, and a safe return to Earth for that spacecraft and crew".

The astronauts have spent two months on the orbiting space lab.



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