After a halt for two months at the International Space Station (ISS), the astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken prepare for their return to Florida. The first astronauts launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company departed the International Space Station on Saturday night for the final and most important part of their test flight to return home.
These two astronauts of NASA bid farewell to the three men left behind as their SpaceX Dragon capsule undocked and headed toward a Sunday afternoon descent by parachute into the Gulf of Mexico.
Meanwhile reports had said the landing of the astronauts would be difficult as the Tropical Storm Isaias’ was surging toward Florida’s Atlantic shore. But NASA said that the weather looked favourable off the coast of Pensacola on the extreme opposite side of the state. The astronauts’ departure was confirmed by SpaceX company on Twitter:
The Tweet posted a video of the undocking of the Dragon Capsule. It will be the first splashdown for astronauts in 45 years. The last time was following the joint US-Soviet mission in 1975 known as Apollo-Soyuz.
The astronauts’ homecoming will cap a two-month 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.
In launching the men from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre on May 30, SpaceX became the first private company to send people into orbit. Now SpaceX is on the verge of becoming the first company to bring people back from orbit. The departure was cross-confirmed by NASA on their Twitter page too:
“The hardest part was getting us launched, but the most important is bringing us home,” Mr Behnken said several hours before strapping into the Dragon. A successful splashdown, Mr Behnken said, will bring US-crew launching capability “full circle”.
At a farewell ceremony earlier in the day, space station commander Chris Cassidy, who will remain on board with two Russians until October, presented Mr Hurley with the small US flag left behind by the previous astronauts to launch to the space station from US soil. Mr Hurley was the pilot of that final shuttle mission in July 2011.
The flag — which also flew on the first shuttle flight in 1981 — became a prize for the company that launched astronauts first. The next SpaceX crew flight is targeted for the end of September.