NASA and SpaceX welcomed four astronauts back to Earth Monday. Their arrival comes just two days before NASA and SpaceX are expected to launch four more astronauts into space.
SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft was supposed to leave the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, with its capsule splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico on Monday morning. However, winds off the Florida coast exceeded safety limits, forcing SpaceX and NASA to push the return to Earth back.
“SpaceX and NASA are targeting no earlier than Monday, Nov. 8 at 2:05 p.m. EST, 7:05 UTC, for Dragon to autonomously undock from the International Space Station,” SpaceX had said on its website. “After performing a series of departure burns to move away from the space station, Dragon will conduct multiple orbit-lowering maneuvers, jettison the trunk, and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere for a soft-water landing at approximately 10:33 p.m. EST.”
The returning astronauts are Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide, and Thomas Pesquet. The U.S., French and Japanese astronauts were launched to the ISS from the Kennedy Space Center back in April, according to SpaceX. The toilet in their capsule has since broken, and so the four will need to rely on diapers while flying home.
NASA and SpaceX are not planning on waiting long before launching “Dragon’s third long-duration crew mission (Crew-3) to the International Space Station”. According to SpaceX, the launch window for that mission opens at 9:03 p.m. EST Wednesday “with a backup opportunity available on Thursday, Nov. 11 at 8:40 p.m. EST.”
“During the Crew-3 mission, NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer will fly aboard the Dragon spacecraft, marking the fifth human spaceflight mission SpaceX has launched since May 2020,” SpaceX said on its website. This flight also has been delayed by bad weather, as well as an astronaut’s undisclosed medical issue. Officials said the issue, described as minor, should be resolved by launch time.
The expected return and launch missions continue to build momentum for SpaceX, a company that a Morgan Stanley analyst says will propel founder Elon Musk to be come the world’s first trillionaire. Adam Jonas said SpaceX is “challenging any preconceived notion of what was possible and the time frame possible”.