Four Astronauts to Return to Earth from Five-Month ISS Mission

Four astronauts are preparing to return home from the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, ending their five-month mission to the orbiting laboratory. The astronauts set a record for the longest time in space by a crew that launched aboard an American-built spacecraft.

On Saturday evening, the crew is slated to climb aboard their spacecraft, which has remained fixed to the space station’s docking ports since the astronauts arrived in November. They’ll undock from the ISS around 8:30 pm ET and then spend the night aboard their capsule as it freeflies through orbit. The spacecraft will fire up its on-board engines to safely cut back into the Earth’s thick atmosphere, and it’ll use a series of parachutes to slow its decent before splashing down off the coast Florida Sunday morning around 2:57 am ET.

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As the vehicle glides toward the ocean with a plume of four large parachutes billowing overhead, a brigade of rescue ships will be positioned in the Gulf of Mexico to greet the crew on arrival. The astronauts will then be shuttled by helicopter or boat back to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, which is home base for all US astronauts.

The recovery crews will try to execute their return as quickly as possible. Ocean splashdowns can be rough on astronauts, as the bobbing waves can cause severe seasickness. When asked what meal he was looking forward to upon his return home, NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins acknowledged that he likely won’t be feeling up to a gourmet meal.

“If I have an appetite, that’s going to be a bonus,” Hopkins said during a remote press conference Monday.

Authorities are keeping close eyes on nearby water for any intruders. During the Crew Dragon Demo-2 splashdown in August, a swarm of unidentified, flag-waving boats encroached on the recovery area. But Coast Guard crews are currently stationed around the perimeter, hoping to prevent a repeat of that scenario.

The capsule has a working restroom, and the astronauts — NASA’s Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi, an astronaut with Japan’s space agency — will have time to get some sleep as the fully autonomous vehicle orbits while SpaceX and NASA officials in Houston, Texas, and Hawthorne, California, watch over the journey.

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SOURCE: CNN Business, Jackie Wattles

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