SpaceX made history earlier this year with the launch of two American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The May 30 launch marked a return of US spaceflight capabilities to US soil for the first time since 2011 and the retired Space Shuttle. But the mission, dubbed Demo-2, is coming to an end and NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, 53, and Bob Behnken, 50, will soon make their trip back to Earth.
SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission tested the capabilities of its Crew Dragon capsule to safely carry humans into orbit.
But before the spacecraft is cleared for use by NASA, SpaceX has one more critical test flight to perform – bringing the astronauts back.
In a post-launch conference, SpaceX Elon Musk said this part of the mission worried him the most.
He said: “The return is more dangerous in some ways than the ascent, so we don’t want to declare victory yet.”
When will SpaceX’s Crew Dragon return to Earth?
NASA has confirmed the Crew Dragon capsule will undock from the ISS this Sunday, August 1, Eastern Time.
Astronauts Behnken and Hurley will then target August 2 for a landing in the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.
However, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Friday weather will drive the actual return date.
The Crew Dragon is expected to undock from the ISS at approximately 7.34pm EDT on Sunday or 12.34am UK time (BST) on Monday morning.
The return is more dangerous in some ways
Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO
Dragon will then splash down in the following day by 2.24pm EDT or 7.24pm BST.
NASA will provide live coverage of all events leading to the return starting on Sunday morning.
Coverage will begin at 9.10am EDT or 4.10pm BST with a farewell ceremony.
Colonel Hurley said last Thursday (July 23): “We have full confidence that the vehicle will perform just like it’s supposed to.
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“That being said, it’s a completely different entry profile than what we are used to or had been used to in the Space Shuttle.
“We’ll land in water, as you said, we’ll land on parachutes – much more dynamic entry.
“There will be much higher Gs and, you know, that’s just part of the unknown.
“We have prepared for it but you can only prepare so much, and we’ll see how the vehicle does and we’ll see how we do when we get back.”
On July 22, NASA’s astronauts performed a series of safety tests on the Crew Dragon.
The astronauts opened and closed the capsule’s hatches, operated its waste system and moved cargo into the vehicle.
NASA said: “As part of the demonstration, Space Station commander Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin joined the duo inside the spacecraft to test how a sleeping configuration would work with four people.
“Behnken and Hurley will continue to test Crew Dragon’s systems and perform science and maintenance onboard station until their return to Earth.”
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