The SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission has so far been a triumph for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley had a smooth launch and ride to the International Space Station in late May. Now they're ready to come back down.
The return to Earth takes some time, and NASA will be there along the way with a livestream on NASA TV. While the timing details could change, NASA has set the following coverage schedule for the major milestones:
Saturday, Aug. 1:
- ISS farewell ceremony coverage at 6:10 a.m. PT.
- Undocking coverage starts at 2:15 p.m. PT ahead of the 4:34 p.m. departure.
Sunday, Aug. 2:
- Splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean is targeted for 11:42 a.m. PT.
- Post-splashdown news conference set for 2 p.m. PT.
The reentry process is dramatic. "Crew Dragon will be traveling at orbital velocity prior to reentry, moving at approximately 17,500 miles per hour. The maximum temperature it will experience on reentry is approximately 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit," said NASA in a statement on July 24.
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A SpaceX recovery vessel will meet Crew Dragon (which the astronauts named Endeavour) to collect the spacecraft and parachutes from the water. Endeavour will be hoisted onto the ship and Behnken and Hurley will be greeted by a medical team.
There's a lot riding on a safe, uneventful return for Crew Dragon. "This is SpaceX's final test flight and is providing data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, splashdown and recovery operations," NASA said in a release.
If Crew Dragon passes these final tests, then SpaceX will be able to provide regular, operational flights to the ISS starting later this year. And it would end NASA's reliance on Russian spacecraft for the first time since the shuttle era.
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