NASA has confirmed that the space agency and SpaceX still plan to take the Endeavour manned spacecraft off the International Space Station and return to Earth this weekend, despite fears that the storm could disrupt the program. Endeavour arrived at the International Space Station in early June with two astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, marking a huge milestone for the SpaceX spacecraft.
Eventually, NASA plans to use a manned dragon spacecraft to carry out missions to and from the International Space Station, bringing new astronauts, supplies and experiments to the International Space Station, and then returning with departing astronauts and other cargo. However, for the first manned mission demonstration, the two sides agreed that Behnken and Hurley would personally travel to the International Space Station and return.
The return flight was scheduled for the weekend, but Tropical Storm Isaias is likely to disrupt the plan. The storm could pose risks in many ways. Splashing requires a certain amount of maximum wind speed, wave severity, and other factors, and certain aspects of support — such as helicopters sent to pick up astronauts — can only operate under certain conditions.
However, despite possible weather disruption, NASA and SpaceX have decided that Saturday’s departure from the International Space Station could still take place. “The team will continue to closely monitor Tropical Storm Isaias and assess the impact on the weather around the Florida Peninsula, including potential spillpoints along the Gulf of Mexico and the state’s Atlantic coast,” NASA said Friday. “NASA and SpaceX will make a decision on the main splash target about six hours before Saturday’s departure.”
The current plan is for the break-up to take place at around 7.34pm EST on Saturday, August 1. The sputter will then take place on Sunday, August 2, at 2:42pm EST. There are seven potential splash sites located on the coasts of Pensacola, Tampa, Tallahassee, Panama City, Cape Canaveral, Daytona and Jacksonville.
NASA says even a storm between the time the manned dragon spacecraft departs from the space station and its current scheduled return should not be a problem. The spacecraft has enough supplies to use for three days, and if last-minute weather changes affect the plan, it is possible to squeeze out additional time through further rationing. NASA says the demonstration mission allows winds of no more than 15 feet per second. Within the 10-mile boundary of the splash, there must be a lightning probability of no more than 25 percent, and NASA has standards for rainfall and visibility.
When it enters the Earth’s atmosphere, the manned dragon spacecraft will travel at about 17,500 miles per hour and experience temperatures of up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. There will be a radio outage of about 6 minutes during the period. After being slowed by atmospheric resistance, the first of the two parachutes will be expanded, which will be recycled separately from the astronauts and the capsule itself.