NASA and SpaceX’s historic first Crew Dragon mission is coming to an end, and the mission has been almost flawless since its launch. But there were fears earlier this week that NASA might have to delay Crew Dragon’s return from the International Space Station to Earth as a tropical storm was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico.
It now appears that, despite the tropical storm, NASA plans to bring Crew Dragon closer to Earth in preparation for the spill later today.
The return of two astronauts to Earth in the SpaceX capsule will mark the end of a historic two-month mission that will give the United States the ability to send its astronauts into space, something it has been missing since the space shuttle fleet retired. The Crew Dragon spacecraft used in the mission, named Dragon Endeavor, began its return flight saturday after being lifted from the International Space Station.
Since leaving the International Space Station on Saturday, the spacecraft has undergone a series of engine combustions to reduce its orbital altitude and is preparing to enter the Earth’s atmosphere later today (around 2:42 p.m. Beijing time).
Tropical Storm Isaias is currently circling the Gulf of Mexico, generating enough wind to damage roofs and buildings, and there are just a few potential spillpoints in the Gulf of Mexico, just west of Florida. Mission planners say the crew Dragon was able to land safely in these areas because of low wind speeds and wave heights.
Once crew Dragon is safely back to Earth, NASA will certify that the spacecraft can be manned. An atypical part of the mission is that astronauts Bainken and Hurley fly in crew Dragon and return on the same boat. Typically, the capsule transports a group of astronauts to the space station and then returns with another group of astronauts.