The men have been aboard the International Space Station for two months after launching the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Their journey began with a historic May launch, marking the crew’s first mission to take off from the soil in the United States in nearly a decade, and could be the first of many if the capsule is safely dispersed off the coast of Florida this weekend.
As of Thursday night, NASA said it still planned to move forward with the invasion, but “teams will continue to monitor the weather before unlocking Saturday night,”
Safe homecoming is crucial. Although SpaceX previously launched Crew Dragon on an undeveloped demonstration mission, Hurley and Behnken’s mission is still considered a test. Both are veteran NASA astronauts and test pilots specially trained to meet any technical issues that may arise with the new vehicle, and NASA will not officially certify Crew Dragon as a man-rated spacecraft until it is made safe. return.
And the return journey is in some ways an even riskier journey from the start. The Dragon crew will have to cross the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour. Fast air compression and the friction between the aircraft and the spacecraft will heat the outer part of the spacecraft to about 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NASA.
Benken described his experience, transferring the atmosphere to previous NASA missions last year: “You actually see the light from the atmosphere as it warms the outer parts of the spacecraft. You see some orange lights flickering in the plasma as it passes through the windows,” he said. “The vehicle is going through something quite difficult – and we hope it will take care of us as it takes us through the entrance.”
Then, as Crew Dragon approaches Earth, it will deploy a small set of parachutes called “drogue parachutes” to begin slowing its descent in front of a large crowd of four parachute fans to slow the vehicle even further. If all goes well, the Crew Dragon will travel at less than 20 miles per hour when it hits the water.
Astronauts will experience much higher forces on the G Draw Crew Dragon, Hurley said. And it will mark the first time astronauts have landed in water since 1975.
Even after splashing, the journey can be difficult. Water can make it difficult for a spacecraft, making it inconvenient for astronauts waiting for ships to recover.
“It takes a while, so … we’ll both have the right hardware ready if we start to feel a little sick,” Benken told a news conference on Friday. The hardware, the astronauts explained, will be a paper bag, similar to the ones that airlines tuck into the back pockets of seats for nauseous passengers.
Benken and Hurley will also need to land in calm weather so that rough winds and high waves do not interfere with splashing or recovery. This means that the meteorological criteria for spraying are even stricter than they were for launching.
NASA and SpaceX officials will continue to monitor the forecasts until Crew Dragon restores the atmosphere.
Discounts with Mother Nature are already a recurring theme on Hurley and Benken’s journey. Their first launch attempt in May was thwarted by thunderstorms. And during its second (successful) launch attempt on May 31, the countdown clock reached zero just as another batch of stormy clouds cleared the sky.
If the weather prevents Crew Dragon from unlocking this weekend, NASA and SpaceX will try again next Wednesday, August 5th.