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File photo of a Crew Dragon spacecraft near the International Space Station. Credit: NASA
NASA and SpaceX decided Friday to bring four space station astronauts back to Earth Monday to close out a 199-day mission, pressing ahead with re-entry and splashdown two days before the planned launch of their replacements Wednesday aboard another Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Crew-2 commander Shane Kimbrough, co-pilot Megan McArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japanese flier Akihiko Hoshide plan to undock from the space-facing port of the station’s forward Harmony module at 1:05 p.m. EST Sunday, setting up a landing off the coast of Florida at 7:14 a.m. Monday.
A backup landing opportunity Monday night is available if the weather or some other issue forces a delay.
Because pleasure boaters in the Gulf of Mexico swarmed around a returning Crew Dragon capsule after its first piloted test flight in 2020, NASA did not immediately reveal the precise landing location for the Crew-2 astronauts.
But an FAA temporary flight restriction, or TFR, indicates a landing zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Crew-2 astronauts pose with their SpaceX flights suits, from left to right: Akihiko Hoshide, Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, and Thomas Pesquet. Credit: NASA/ESA/Thomas Pesquet
With the decision to press ahead with the Crew-2 return, NASA tentatively rescheduled launch of their replacements — Crew-3 commander Raja Chari, pilot Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer — for Wednesday night.
Assuming Crew-2 lands Monday and the weather cooperates, liftoff atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center is targeted for 9:03 p.m., setting up a docking at the station’s forward port Thursday.
The Crew-3 astronauts will be welcomed aboard by Soyuz MS-19/65S commander Anton Shkaplerov, Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei. Shkaplerov was launched to the lab Oct. 5, but Dubrov and Vande Hei have been on board since April and are working through a nearly year-long stay in space.
NASA and SpaceX originally planned to launch the Crew-3 astronauts on Oct. 31, but the flight was delayed, first by stormy off-shore weather and then by a minor medical issue with one of the crew members.
Launch was tentatively reset for this past Saturday, but was called off and pushed back to Monday at the earliest because of more bad weather, locally and along the crew’s path to orbit where they might have to attempt an emergency landing in an abort.
NASA would prefer to bring station astronauts home after they’ve had a chance to brief their replacements on lab operations. But in this case, given the Crew-2 capsule is nearing its 210-day certification limit, NASA decided to bring Kimbrough and company back to Earth first.