The men have been aboard the International Space Station for two months, after launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.
Their journey began with the historic May launch that marked the first mission of the crew to take off from U.S. soil in nearly a decade, and could be the first of many if the capsule launches. down off the Florida coast this weekend.
As of Thursday night, NASA said it was still planning to move forward with the spread, but “teams will continue to monitor the weather before they hit Saturday night,”; the agency said. space said in a tweet.
Winning safely is crucial. Although SpaceX previously launched Dragon Crew on an unrecognized demonstration mission, Hurley and Behnken’s mission is still seen as a test. Both men are veteran NASA astronauts and test pilots specifically trained to respond to any technical issues that may arise on the new vehicle, and NASA does not officially certify the crew as a rated spacecraft. by the man until he makes a safe return.
And the return journey is, in some respects, an even riskier journey than the launch. A dragon crew will need to cross back from Earth’s atmosphere at 17,500 miles per hour. Air compression and the friction between the air and the spacecraft will heat the outer part of the spacecraft to about 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NASA.
Behnken described his experience of reintroducing the atmosphere on previous NASA missions last year: “You actually see light from the atmosphere by warming up the outer portions of the spacecraft. You see some orange lights flashing in the plasma as it passes through the windows, ”he said. “The vehicle is going through something pretty severe – and we hope you take care of it by taking the revenue with us.”
Then, as the Dragon Crew approaches Earth, he will send a small set of parachutes, called a “drug parachute,” to begin suppressing his descent in front of a large plume of four fans of the parachute to propel the vehicle down further. If all goes well, the Crew Dragon will be traveling less than 20 miles per hour when it hits the water.
Astronauts will experience much higher G forces on the Dragon Crew, Hurley said. And it will mark the first time astronauts have landed in water since 1975.
Even after the flight, the journey can slow down. Water can jostle the spacecraft, making it uncomfortable for astronauts as they wait for recovery ships to arrive.
“It takes a while so … we both get the proper hardware ready if we start to feel sick,” Behnken said at a news conference on Friday. The “hardware,” the astronauts clarified, will be a paper bag, like the ones that airlines put in the back pockets of the seat for vaccinated passengers.
Behnken and Hurley will also have to descend into a place with calm weather so that rough winds and high waves do not interfere with the spreading or recovery process. This means that the weather criteria for a splashdown are even stricter than it was for the launch.
NASA and SpaceX officials will continue to monitor all forecasts until the Dragon Crew re-enters the atmosphere.
Stand-offs with Mother Nature were already a recurring theme of Hurley and Behnken’s journey. Their first attempt to launch in May was marred by storm surges. And during their second (successful) launch attempt on May 31, the countdown clock hit zero as another batch of storm clouds cleared the sky.
If the weather prevents Crew Dragon from crashing this weekend, NASA and SpaceX will try again next Wednesday, August 5th.