SpaceX splashdown: Astronauts leave ISS, begin return journey to Earth
With the flight back to Earth expected to take six-and-a-half hours, the crew was scheduled to splash down in the dark of night off Panama City.
Four astronauts left the International Space Station on Saturday aboard a SpaceX vessel, after more than 160 days in space which will culminate in a splash landing off the Florida coast.
LIVE: NASA's @SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts are strapped in for their journey home tonight. Watch the hatches close between Crew Dragon Resilience and the @Space_Station.— NASA (@NASA) May 1, 2021
Ask questions using #LaunchAmerica. https://t.co/WX4VuVJXZk
The Crew Dragon capsule undocked from the ISS as scheduled at 8:35 pm (0035 Sunday GMT). With the flight back to Earth expected to take six-and-a-half hours, the crew was scheduled to splash down in the dark of night off Panama City, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:57 am.
Departure burns complete. Dragon will reenter the Earth's atmosphere in ~4 hours— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 2, 2021
“Dragon separation visually confirmed,” a Nasa commentator said after two sets of six hooks tying the capsule to the ISS retracted.
The capsule then fired a series of short bursts with its thrusters to gently ease away from the ISS.
Nasa livestream footage showed the Crew Dragon capsule moving off into the dark as it began its journey back to Earth, its rear engines lighting up in small flashes.
Seven astronauts remained on the ISS including a new crew of four who arrived on a different SpaceX craft last week.
“Thanks for your hospitality,” Michael Hopkins, one of the departing US astronauts, said as the capsule moved away. “We’ll see you back on Earth.”
You may now move freely about the cabin.— NASA (@NASA) May 2, 2021
The astronauts have removed their spacesuits and are enjoying one more meal in space before returning to Earth. They'll suit up again before the deorbit burn, about 4.5 hours from now. pic.twitter.com/MOysJzxRzG
Nasa and SpaceX have alternative splash down sites ready, aside from Panama City, if need be.
“We have been practicing to recover the crews day or night,” Steve Stich, Nasa’s Commercial Crew program manager, said shortly before the capsule’s departure.
“The ships have lots of lighting,” helped by “good moonlight,” he said, adding that weather conditions were excellent, with calm seas.
SpaceX boats are expected to reach the capsule about 10 minutes after splashdown.
The Sun rises on Crew Dragon Resilience. Crew-1 are coming home. pic.twitter.com/6TzuouGlkw— NASA (@NASA) May 2, 2021
Astronauts Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi went to space last November as the crew on the first fully operational mission to the ISS aboard a vehicle made by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has become Nasa’s favored commercial transportation partner.
Watch Dragon depart from the @space_station and return to Earth with Crew-1 astronauts @AstroVicGlover, @Astro_illini, Shannon Walker, and @Astro_Soichi → https://t.co/bJFjLCzWdK https://t.co/afGwAhOM2Z— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 2, 2021
Prior to that, two American astronauts made a test mission to the ISS in May and stayed for two months.
That was the first launch to the ISS from US soil since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. It was also the first crewed mission run by a private company, as opposed to Nasa.
Until then US astronauts had caught rides to the ISS aboard Russian spacecraft.
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