Astronauts make successful return to Earth after almost 200 days in orbit
A SpaceX capsule carrying four astronauts home from the International Space Station after almost 200 days in orbit has splashed down to Earth on Tuesday morning.
The Crew Dragon capsule, Endeavour, landed in the Gulf of Mexico just after 7.30am Gulf Standard Time on Tuesday after an eight-hour journey from the station, completing a 199-day research mission in space.
Slowed by the Earth’s atmosphere, as well as four huge parachutes, it was able to withstand the dizzying descent thanks to its heat shield.
Nasa had planned to bring the SpaceX Crew-2 mission team back a day earlier, but delayed the process of detaching the spacecraft from the ISS owing to high winds in the landing zone. The US space agency live-streamed the astronauts’ return on its YouTube channel.
Applause was heard from the flight control center as the four main parachutes inflated above the capsule as it drifted down toward the Gulf surface, slowing its speed to about 24 kph before dropping gently into the calm sea.
“Endeavour, on behalf of SpaceX, welcome home to planet Earth,” a voice from the SpaceX flight control center in suburban Los Angeles was heard telling the crew as a safe splashdown was confirmed.
“It’s great to be back,” one of the astronauts radioed in reply.
France’s Thomas Pesquet, Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide and Americans Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur flew to the ISS on April 24 this year.
Owing to several delays, returned to Earth before the next four-person mission arrives at the ISS.
Crew-3 has also been delayed several times, by bad weather and an undisclosed medical problem, among other hitches.
Good news for crew number two
The journey home lasted eight hours, less than half as long as the trip there.
This is good news for the astronauts, who were not able to use the on-board toilet because of a possible urine leak. They relied on nappies until they landed.
“Our intent is to not use the system at all for the return leg home because of what we’ve seen with the fluids we are talking about,” said Steve Stich, Nasa’s commercial crew programme manager.
“We have other means to allow the crew to perform the functions they need.”
The all-civilian crew of the privately funded Inspiration4 mission reported problems with the spacecraft’s toilet during their mission this year, but SpaceX redesigned the system before the Crew-3 flight.
SpaceX Crew Dragon capsules were certified to spend up to 210 days in orbit.