NASA and SpaceX are nearing the end of their historic first Crew Dragon mission that has run flawlessly since launch. There was some concern earlier in the week that NASA may have to postpone the Crew Dragon’s return ferrying astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley back to Earth from the ISS due to a tropical storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the tropical storm, NASA still has the Crew Dragon maneuvering closer to earth in preparation for splashdown later today.
The two astronauts returning to Earth aboard the SpaceX capsule will mark the end of the historic two-month-long mission that gives the United States the ability to put its astronauts into space that has been missing since the space shuttle fleet retired. The Crew Dragon spacecraft used in this mission is named Dragon Endeavor and started its return journey home after undocking from the ISS on Saturday.
The launch of the Crew Dragon marked the first time since 2011 the United States has been able to put its astronauts into space. Since departing the ISS on Saturday, the spacecraft has performed a series of engine burns to reduce its orbital altitude, preparing to enter the earth’s atmosphere later today.
Tropical Storm Isaias is currently in the Gulf of Mexico, producing winds high enough to damage roofs and buildings. There are several potential splashdown sites in the Gulf with four to the west of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. Mission planners say that wind speed and wave heights are low enough for the Crew Dragon to land safely in those areas.
Once the Crew Dragon makes a safe return to Earth, NASA will certify the spacecraft as human-rated. One thing that has been atypical about this mission is that astronauts Behnken and Hurley flew up in the Crew Dragon and are returning in it as well. Typically the capsule will ferry one set of astronauts to the space station and return with another.