SpaceX-Launched Astronauts Set to Return from Space Stationg

Photo: Getty Images

HAWTHORNE (CNS) - Two astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth today from their historic mission to the International Space Station in a capsule built and launched by Hawthorne-based SpaceX.

Weather permitting, splashdown is scheduled for 11:48 a.m. PDT time in the Gulf of Mexico, with the location changed from the Atlantic Ocean due to the approach of Hurricane Isaias toward Florida. The recovery boat departed its port at 9:20 a.m. East Coast time Sunday to stage for recovery operations in the Gulf, according to NASA.

Mission controllers were keeping a close watch on the weather, but as of Sunday morning, the operation was still expected to go on as scheduled.

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were aboard the space station since May 31, the day after SpaceX's historic launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the first manned launch from U.S. soil since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011.

Their trip in SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft -- named Endeavour -- was technically a demonstration flight, showing off the capabilities of the

ship as NASA advances private partnerships to revive U.S. space travel.

On Saturday, Johnson Space Center announced on Twitter that the astronauts were headed home, saying, “62 days on board,'' “1024 Earth orbits,'' “Saw 1 visiting vehicle leave & 1 arrive,'' “114 hours of research'' and “4 spacewalks for @AstroBehnken with @Astro_SEAL.''

Hurley tweeted, “It was an honor and privilege to be part of Expedition 63. Thanks to @Astro_SEAL , Anatoly, & @ivan_mks63 for making our stay on @Space_Station an incredible experience. Now it's time to finish our DM-2 test flight in order to pave the way for future Dragon crews. Go Endeavour!''

The launch and subsequent autonomous docking with the space station have seemingly gone off without a flaw, but the mission has one more major step.

“We're watching (forecasts) closely, mostly to maintain awareness and see the trends, and understand what the timeline would be if our recovery out of the water, for example, was delayed a little bit,'' Behnken said Friday from the space station during a NASA news briefing. “But we have confidence that the teams on the ground are of course watching that much more closely than we are.

“We don't control the weather, and we know we can stay up here longer -- there's more chow, and I know the space station program has more work that we can do for the (principal investigators) and other folks who have sent science up to the space station,'' he said.

Behnken said he and Hurley spent the last day preparing for the trip, “working through the onboard training that will refamiliarize us with the splashdown activities, what our responsibilities will be, the things that we'll monitor.''

But even before their mission is completed, SpaceX is already deep into planning for the next one. Assuming there are no glitches with the remainder of Hurley and Behnken's demonstration mission, dubbed Demo-2, the company will move ahead with Crew Dragon's first “operational mission.''

That mission will launch four astronauts -- Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi -- to the space station, sometime in late September.

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