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Four astronauts aboard the International Space Station prepared their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule to undock on Saturday night, staging a fiery dive into a pre-dawn dive into the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday to close the futuristic-screen ferry’s first operational flight SpaceX touchscreen.

Crew 1 Commander Michael Hopkins, along with NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, planned to pull away from the harbor facing the Harmony module space ahead of the station at 20 35 p.m. EDT, setting up a splashdown in the Gulf south of Panama City, Fla., around 2:57 a.m. Sunday.

Crew Dragon’s return to Earth will mark only the second piloted landing since SpaceX began launching astronauts last year as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and just the third night-time descent in history. space – the first in almost 45 years.

Crew 1 astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi, pictured here floating in the space station’s Destiny lab module, will complete a 168-day stay in orbit with a pre-dawn splashdown on Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico. / Credit: NASA

SpaceX crews were stationed in the landing zone on Saturday to secure the Crew Dragon, transport it to a company salvage ship, and help the astronauts exit the spacecraft on stretchers, as they begin. to readjust to gravity after five and a half hours. months in weightlessness.

After medical checks and phone calls to friends and family, the four crew members are to be transported ashore by helicopter and handed over to NASA personnel for a flight back to Johnson Space Center in Houston.

While mission managers prefer daytime landings, bad weather ruled out re-entry plans on Wednesday and Saturday. With mild winds expected early Sunday, NASA and SpaceX have agreed to aim for a pre-dawn return for Crew-1 astronauts.

Unlike Crew Dragon’s first piloted splashdown last August, when the spacecraft was quickly surrounded by boaters enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Gulf, the Coast Guard planned to set up a safety zone of 10 miles wide for this landing to keep spectators early in the morning. very far away.

The return of the Crew Dragon will complete a record-breaking crew rotation requiring two launches and two landings with four different spacecraft in just three weeks to replace the seven crew members on the International Space Station.

Last News Four Dragon crew astronauts return home from space station

Crew Dragon’s first splashdown took place last August when astronauts Douglas Hurley and Roberrt Behnken landed in the Gulf of Mexico after the SpaceX capsule’s first piloted flight. / Credit: NASA

On April 9, a Russian Soyuz Spaceship transported Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrovnik and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei to the station after a launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They replaced another Soyuz crew – Sergei Ryzhikov, Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Kate Rubins – who returned to Earth on April 17.

Then, on April 24, a Crew Dragon brought in Crew 2 Commander Shane Kimbrough, NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and Japanese aviator Akihiko Hoshide. at the station. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket which launched them the day before also helped launch Hopkins and Company, the crew they replace aboard the station.

After helping Crew-2 astronauts settle aboard the lab complex, Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi, who arrived at the station on November 16, was planning to bid farewell to her seven crew on Saturday night, floating in their own Crew Dragon to undock.

After moving away from a safe distance, the ship’s flight computer is programmed to trigger the ship’s brake thrusters for approximately 16 and a half minutes starting at 2:03 a.m. Sunday.

Moving through space at over 17,100 mph – over 83 football pitches per second – the rocket firing is designed to slow the Crew Dragon to just around 258 mph, just enough to drop the far side of it. orbit in the dense lower atmosphere on a trail targeting the Gulf of Mexico landing zone.

Protected by a high-tech heat shield, the Crew Dragon is expected to enter the perceptible atmosphere around 2:45 a.m., decelerating rapidly in an outbreak of atmospheric friction.

Once out of the plasma heating zone, the spacecraft’s parachutes should deploy, allowing the ship to stabilize at a relatively mild impact in the Gulf.

The last previous night landing was in October 1976 when two cosmonauts in a Soviet-era Soyuz spacecraft, making an unplanned descent in snowstorm conditions after a docking failure, were thrown into a large lake in Kazakhstan. It took the recovery teams nine hours to move the spacecraft to shore and rescue the cosmonauts.

The only other nocturnal splashdown was in December 1968 when the Apollo 8 crew, returning from a Christmas trip around the moon, made a planned and uneventful landing before dawn in the Pacific Ocean.

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