U.S. astronauts pack up for rare splashdown

SpaceX Crew Dragon astronauts await

The last U.S. space return by sea was the joint Apollo-Soyuz docking mission, which ended with the Apollo capsule's return in July 1975, northwest of Hawaii.

NASA turned to SpaceX and Boeing for US-based crew transport after the space shuttles retired in 2011.

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Bob Behnken rehearse crew extraction from SpaceX's Crew Dragon, which will be used to carry humans to the International Space Station, on August 13, 2019 at the Trident Basin in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The astronauts' homecoming will cap a mission that ended a prolonged launch drought in the US, which has relied on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to the space station since the end of the shuttle era.

Crew Dragon Capsule C201 being recovered after splashdown following Demo-1.

The spacecraft docked to the International Docking Adaptor 2 located on Pressurized Mating Adaptor 2 on the forward end of the Harmony module of the International Space Station just 19 hours after liftoff, joining the then three person Expedition 63 crew aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Bob and Doug's mission was originally to last around a week but was extended to over 60 days in order to bolster activity aboard the Station during a period of low crew operations which started in April 2020 with the undocking of Soyuz MS-13 and the end of Expedition 61.

This will be the first time the Crew Dragon will be carrying astronauts back to our planet.

NASA managers say the Crew Dragon has chalked up a near flawless flight, setting the stage for re-entry and splashdown.

"It's been a great two months, and we appreciate all you've done as a crew to help us prove out Dragon on its maiden flight", Hurley told the remaining USA station crew member Chris Cassidy, as Crew Dragon autonomously eased away from its docking port to begin the 21-hour journey home. That included four spacewalks by Behnken with Chris Cassidy, who has been on the station since April with two Russian cosmonauts, to complete the replacement of batteries in the station's power supply.

Following refurbishment, the capsule will fly again next spring with a crew of four - including his wife, NASA astronaut Megan McArthur.

The departure on the same day has been scheduled for 4.34 pm PT.

After nearly 8 hours, the Dragon is slated for splash down at one of seven targeted water landing sites off the coast of Florida at 2:42 PM EDT on August 2 (12:12 am IST on August 3).

'And they are off!' the USA space agency tweeted, with Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken set to splash down Sunday. The last time was following the joint U.S.

The ocean landings come after a 45-year hiatus and hark back to NASA's Apollo program, which saw astronauts splash into the Pacific Ocean with retrieval by ships. NASA has seven possible landing sites off the Coast of Florida.

Although the SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission has had a smooth going as of now, the landing of the capsule will be a big test for the company as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

As per the schedule, the farewell ceremony at the ISS will take place at 6.10 am PT on August 1 and undocking coverage will commence at 2.15 pm PT.

After splashdown, they will have to wait an hour or so before the capsule is hauled by crane onto a SpaceX recovery ship, where the hatch will be opened.

NASA and SpaceX will aim for no more than 60 minutes from splashdown to crew egress of Dragon. The astronauts will then undergo medical checks before boarding a NASA plane back to Houston.

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