SpaceX returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States on May 30th, when a Falcon 9 rocket propelled the Crew Dragon spacecraft with NASA astronauts Robert ‘Bob’ Behnken and Douglas ‘Doug’ Hurley aboard to the International Space Station (ISS). It was SpaceX’s first crewed flight, referred to as Demo-2, to demonstrate its spacecraft is capable of reliably transporting crew to space. After a two-month stay at the orbiting laboratory, the astronauts are ready to return on August 1st. It will be the first time SpaceX returns humans aboard the spacecraft. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced today – “Teams from NASA and SpaceX remain GO with plans to bring Astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken home to Earth on Sunday afternoon. We will continue to monitor weather before undocking Saturday night,” he wrote via Twitter.
“Teams from NASA and SpaceX are proceeding with preparations to bring NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley home to Earth on Sunday, August 2, after receiving a weather briefing this evening from the U.S Air Force 45th Weather Squadron,” the agency wrote in a press release today. “Conditions remain ‘GO’ at several of the needed target locations for splashdown and recovery off the Florida coast on Sunday aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon ‘Endeavour’ spacecraft. NASA and SpaceX will make a decision on a primary splashdown target approximately 6 hours before undocking Saturday.” The Crew Dragon spacecraft will undock autonomously from the ISS Harmony module at approximately 7:34 p.m. EDT Saturday, August 1, and is expected to splashdown at 2:42 p.m. EDT on Sunday, August 2. NASA will broadcast a ceremony leading to the astronauts’ return aboard Crew Dragon, starting at 9:10 a.m EDT. tomorrow. [You can watch it live in the video linked below.]
NASA selected seven potential Dragon splashdown locations off the coasts of Pensacola, Tampa, Tallahassee, Panama City, Cape Canaveral, Daytona, or Jacksonville. Behnken and Hurley’s return voyage may take anywhere between 6 and 30 hours, depending on what splashdown zone is selected. Dragon will cross Earth’s atmosphere to conduct a parachute-assisted landing in the ocean. Once Behnken and Hurley splashdown, SpaceX recovery ships will pick them up. Each of the two recovery ships feature a helicopter landing pad and medical rooms to aid the astronauts upon return. After a medical team checks the astronauts’ health, they will be brought to shore either by helicopter for six of the seven recovery areas, depending on which one is selected, or by recovery ship if the crew conducts the splashdown near Cape Canaveral.
“Teams continue to closely monitor Hurricane Isaias and evaluate impacts to the landing sites in the Gulf of Mexico along the Florida Panhandle. Teams have several weather decision milestones ahead of and after undocking to adjust the splashdown location and time based on the forecasted conditions for recovery,” NASA stated. Astronaut Hurley shared a stunning photograph he captured of Hurricane Isaias from the space stations perspective. – “This photo of Hurricane Isaias was taken a few hours ago as it travels northwest between Cuba and the Bahamas. I hope the people in its path stay safe and I hope it doesn’t disrupt our return to Earth on Sunday,” he said (pictured below).
“We’re watching [forecasts] closely, mostly to maintain awareness and see the trends, and understand what the timeline would be if our recovery out of the water, for example, was delayed a little bit. But we have confidence that the teams on the ground are of course watching that much more closely than we are,” Behnken stated. “We don’t control the weather, and we know we can stay up here longer – there’s more chow, and I know the space station program has more work that we can do for the [principal investigators] and other folks who have sent science up to the space station.”
Astronauts Behnken and Hurley are thankful to be part of the Demo-2 mission and excited to return to Earth. “Just to be able to live and work aboard the space station – a facility that the three of us all helped to build during shuttle flights – and to be a crew member with Chris and Bob on a day-to-day basis, supporting station operations, supporting science, supporting maintenance, the four spacewalks that these guys did, the robotics that we did, was just an incredible experience,” Hurley said. Today, July 31, they conducted final preparations to return, “As we get closer, we focus more and more on our preparations to be ready for the splashdown activities. We spent today working through the onboard training that will refamiliarize us with the splashdown activities, what our responsibilities will be, the things that we’ll monitor,” Behnken shared.
WATCH IT LIVE!
LIVE BROADCAST SCHEDULE
Saturday, August 1
- 9:10 a.m. – SpaceX Dragon Demo-2 Farewell Ceremony aboard the International Space Station (ceremony begins about 9:15 a.m.)
- 5:15 p.m. – NASA TV undocking coverage begins for the 7:34 p.m. undocking (NASA Television will have continuous coverage from undocking to splashdown)
Sunday, August 2
- 2:42 p.m. – Splashdown
- 5 p.m. – Administrator post-splashdown news conference from the Johnson Space Center, with the following participants:
- NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
- Steve Stich, manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program
- International Space Station representative
- Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer, SpaceX
- NASA Astronaut Office representative
Tuesday, August 4
- 4:30 p.m. – Demo-2 crew news conference at Johnson, with the following participants:
- NASA astronaut Bob Behnken
- NASA astronaut Doug Hurley