Updated: August 2, 2020 10:03:59 pm
The first astronauts launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company have departed the International Space Station (ISS) and are on course for the final and most important part of their test flight—returning to Earth with a retro-style splashdown.
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are just hours away from the splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida, two months after a rocket ship designed and built by SpaceX company lifted off on a history-making flight to the ISS. The event will mark the first splashdown in 45 years for NASA astronauts and the first return in the gulf.
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The two astronauts bid farewell to the three men left behind as their SpaceX Dragon capsule undocked and headed toward a descent by parachute. The splashdown into the Gulf of Mexico is scheduled to take place a little after midnight on Sunday in India (2.48 pm EDT, or 12.18 am IST on Monday). This will be the first launch and landing of American astronauts from American soil after nine years.
Space station commander Chris Cassidy rang the ship’s bell as Dragon pulled away, 267 miles (430 kilometers) above Johannesburg, South Africa. Within a few minutes, all that could be seen of the capsule was a pair of flashing lights against the black void of space.
“It’s been a great two months, and we appreciate all you’ve done as a crew to help us prove out Dragon on its maiden flight,” Hurley radioed to the space station.
While SpaceX became the first private company to send people into orbit, it is on the verge of becoming the first firm to bring people back from orbit.
The Dragon capsule, named Endeavour by its crew, was to go from a screaming orbital speed of 17,500 mph (28,000 kph) to 350 mph (560 kph) during re-entry in the atmosphere and finally to 15 mph (24 kph) at splashdown. Peak heating during descent: 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,900 degrees Celsius). Top G forces: four to five times the force of Earth’s gravity.
This will also be the first launch and landing of American astronauts from American soil after nine years. The destruction of space shuttle Columbia in 2003 caused NASA to retire the space shuttle in 2011. Since then, NASA did not have its own ride to the International Space Station for nine long years — and were wholly dependent on the Russians to get US astronauts there.
(With inputs from AP)
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