SpaceX made history on May 30th this year, when a Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from American soil carrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft. It was the first time in nearly a decade that humans launch from the United States. The successful Demo-2 mission demonstrates Dragon is capable of reliably flying a crew to space. After a two-month-long stay at the orbiting laboratory, NASA Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley packed their bags this morning to return aboard Crew Dragon. “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go… #LandAmerica” Behnken captioned a photograph of everything that will return to Earth, pictured below.
With them will come a historic United States flag that Hurley left at the space station in 2011, during the last Space Shuttle flight. Returning the flag to Earth symbolizes the beginning of a new era in American human spaceflight. – “This flag has spent some time up here, on the order of 9 years... I'm very proud to return this flag home and see what's next for it on its journey to the Moon,” Hurley said during a farewell ceremony this morning, August 1. The agency plans on flying the flag again to the moon during the Artemis mission.
"This flag has spent some time up here, on the order of 9 years... I'm very proud to return this flag home and see what's next for it on its journey to the Moon." - @Astro_Doug with the U.S. flag that will return home with the #LaunchAmerica crew & fly on the 1st #Artemis mission pic.twitter.com/aHYoE82c1N— NASA (@NASA) August 1, 2020
“…We're about to embark on the final portion of the journey... The hardest part was getting us launched, but the most important part is bringing us home,” Behnken said, “I look forward to the test objectives not only separating from the International Space Station smoothly, but then coming down to a nice splashdown off the Florida coast to come full circle with bringing that capability to launch astronauts again to the United States.”
"Now as Doug mentioned, we're about to embark on the final portion of the journey... The hardest part was getting us launched, but the most important part is bringing us home." - @AstroBehnken on the #LaunchAmerica crew's return to Earth aboard the @SpaceX Dragon Endeavour pic.twitter.com/tEeL05gXWe— NASA (@NASA) August 1, 2020
The agency announced weather conditions are “Go” at the primary splashdown location, off the coast Pensacola, Florida as well as the alternate location off the coast of Panama City in the Gulf of Mexico.The Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to undock from the ISS Harmony module later today at around 7:34 p.m. EDT. “Dragon to autonomously undock from the Space Station, with the two astronauts aboard the spacecraft, and return to Earth. Approximately 19 hours later, after jettisoning its trunk and re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, Dragon will splash down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida at 2:41 p.m. EDT on Sunday, August 2,” SpaceX announced.
BREAKING: @NASA and @SpaceX are targeting Pensacola as the primary return location for Crew Dragon w/ @Astro_Doug and @AstroBehnken from the @Space_Station. We are targeting undocking at 7:34 p.m. EDT today. Read more: https://t.co/Xdh8iIpLxz pic.twitter.com/9p5TRMevAH— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) August 1, 2020
NASA says they are closely monitoring how Hurricane Isaias may affect the splashdown locations, about two and half hours before undocking weather conditions will be assessed to determine if they will undock at the scheduled time – “NASA and SpaceX will make the final decision to proceed after the astronauts are ready inside Crew Dragon just before undocking,” the agency wrote in a press release.
Crew Dragon will depart the @Space_Station with @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug in about 6 hours and splash down off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:41 p.m. EDT on Sunday, August 2. Demo-2 return webcast begins today at ~5:15 p.m. EDT → https://t.co/bJFjLCzWdK pic.twitter.com/JZdhG1ATzA— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 1, 2020
NASA will live-stream the astronauts’ return voyage, starting at 5:15 p.m. EDT. Live broadcast may last around 19-hours. It will be the first time SpaceX returns humans from space. Dragon Endeavour will undock from the orbiting laboratory’s module autonomously, departure, conduct a series of phasing burns to align with the splashdown location, then it will jettison its trunk to prepare to reenter Earth’s atmosphere When Crew Dragon crosses Earth’s atmosphere with Astronauts Behnken and Hurley aboard it will be traveling at orbital velocity moving at approximately 17,500 miles per hour. Then, as it reenters the atmosphere it will experience a maximum temperature of approximately 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. “The re-entry creates a communications blackout between the spacecraft and Earth that is expected to last approximately six minutes,” the agency shared. As Dragon approaches Earth’s surface, it will deploy its set of drogue parachutes at around 18,000 feet above the ground as it falls at 350 miles per hour. At 6,000-feet, Dragon’s four main parachutes will deploy as it moves at 119 miles per hour. The craft will attempt to soft-land in the ocean.
SpaceX recovery teams will be waiting at the landing zones to rescue the astronauts as soon as possible upon landing in the ocean. The company has equipped two recovery ships called ‘Go Searcher’ and ‘Go Navigator’ these ships feature a helicopter landing pad and a medical room for first responders to assist the astronauts’ potential needs upon returning from space. “On either ship will be more than 40 personnel from SpaceX and NASA, made up of spacecraft engineers, trained water recovery experts, medical professionals, the ship’s crew, NASA cargo experts, and others to assist in the recovery,” the agency says. “The main recovery vessel can move in and begin to hoist the Crew Dragon capsule onto the main deck. Once the capsule is on the recovery vessel, it is moved to a stable location for the hatch to be opened for waiting medical professionals to conduct initial checks and assist Behnken and Hurley out of Dragon Endeavour.”
You can watch Demo-2 mission return coverage in the video below. Schedule is in Eastern Time.
WATCH IT LIVE!
Saturday, August 1
- 5:15 p.m. – NASA TV undocking coverage begins for the 7:34 p.m. undocking (NASA Television will have continuous coverage from undocking to splashdown)
Sunday, August 2
- 2:42 p.m. – Splashdown
- 5 p.m. – Administrator post-splashdown news conference at Johnson, with the following representatives:
- NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
- Commercial Crew Program representative
- International Space Station representative
- Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer, SpaceX
- NASA Astronaut Office representative
Tuesday, August 4
- 4:30 p.m. – Demo-2 Crew News Conference from the Johnson Space Center, with the following participants
- NASA astronaut Bob Behnken
- NASA astronaut Doug Hurley
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.