Two NASA astronauts are preparing to make their first dive into Earth return in 45 years, as the threat posed by Hurricane Isaias off the coast of Florida facilitated.
Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are due to return to Earth from the International Space Station on Sunday after launching into space in May on a commercial spacecraft built by SpaceX.
The astronaut, Crew Dragon, separated from the space station before a predicted crash off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, at 2:42 pm on Sunday (6:42 pm in the United Kingdom).
"It was an excellent two months and we appreciate everything you did as a crew to help us taste Dragon on its maiden flight," Hurley told USstation team member Chris Cassidy as the Crew Dragon walked away from the dock. to start the 21-hour journey home.
His mission, called Demo-2, also marked the first time Nasa launched astronauts from American soil in nine years.
The last time the astronauts landed in the ocean was in July 1975, during an Apollo mission.
Since then, astronauts have always landed on dry land, using the Space Shuttle or Soyuz capsules from the Russian space agency.
If all goes as planned, the explosion will usher in a new era for NASA, which will have at least one commercial probe ready to launch astronauts into space from American soil.
The splashdown is the final stage of the mission designed to test SpaceX's human space flight system – including launch, docking, splashdown and recovery operations.
At a post-launch conference in May, Elon Musk – who is the founder of SpaceX – said he was not interested in "declaring victory yet", emphasizing that "the return may be more dangerous than the rise".
Musk said at the time: "We need to bring them home safely and ensure that we are doing everything we can to minimize this risk of re-entry."
Right after the trip, the performance of the Crew Dragon will perform several maneuvers that will lower the capsule's orbit and bring it closer to the splash zone.
The probe will perform another maneuver, known as deorbit firing, which will place it on a trajectory of falling water, traveling at a speed of approximately 27,500 kilometers per hour.
Upon entering the Earth's atmosphere, Crew Dragon will face scorching temperatures of around 1,900 ° C when deploying parachutes to slow its speed to about 219 kilometers per hour, before landing in the ocean.
The re-entry will create a blackout in communications between the spacecraft and Earth, which is expected to last approximately six minutes, NASA said.
Two SpaceX the recovery ships, the Go Searcher and the Go Navigator, comprised of spacecraft engineers, recovery specialists and medical professionals, will be waiting to pull the capsule on board and help the astronauts out when they start to readjust to gravity.
The aerospace company's first operational flight is expected to take place in September, when a second Crew Dragon spacecraft will take four astronauts to the space station.