SpaceX Crew Dragon has undocked from International Space Station (ISS) for return to Earth, AFP news agency quoted NASA as saying on Sunday. The space agency said that SpaceX Dragon Endeavour has exited the “approach ellipsoid” around the International Space Station (ISS) and is on a safe trajectory.
The two NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley departed the International Space Station on Saturday evening, beginning a roughly day-long voyage back on Earth. They also took part in a farewell ceremony at the Space Station, several hours ahead of their planned departure.
And they are off! @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug have left the @Space_Station!— Johnson Space Center (@NASA_Johnson) August 2, 2020
🛰️62 days on board
🌎~1024 Earth orbits
🚀Saw 1 visiting vehicle leave & 1 arrive
🧪~114 hours of research
👨🚀 4 spacewalks for @AstroBehnken with @Astro_SEAL
📺Tune in @ https://t.co/0tGwqaAWLt pic.twitter.com/mLf43S4QTP
Despite approaching Hurricane Isaias, NASA said the weather looks favourable for a Sunday afternoon splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City, Florida. 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 Hurley and Behnken from NASA's Kennedy Space Center 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 hardest part was getting us launched, but the most important is bringing us home," Associated Press quoted Behnken as saying.
A successful splashdown, Behnken said, will bring US-crew launching capability full circle. Space station commander Chris Cassidy, who will remain on board with two Russians until October, presented Hurley with the small US flag left behind by the previous astronauts to launch to the space station from US soil, in July 2011. Hurley was the pilot of that final shuttle mission.
Elon Musk's SpaceX easily beat Boeing, which isn't expected to launch its first crew until next year and will land in the US Southwest. "We're a little sad to see them go," Cassidy said, but very excited for what it means to our international space program to add this capability of commercial crew capsules. The next SpaceX crew flight is targeted for the end of September.
(With agency inputs)