NASA-SpaceX crew begins return voyage from Worldwide Area Station By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rests on the launch pad behind pictures of crew members on the countdown clock as final preparations for the Crew 3 mission to the International Space Station are made at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canavera

Posted by Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – Four astronauts, who arrived at the International Space Station in April for a long-term scientific mission, began their return journey to Earth Monday after their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule separated from the orbital laboratory for the flight home.

The Dragon vehicle, dubbed Endeavor, was undocked from the space station just after 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) as planned, in a process broadcast live from a NASA webcast with a video showing the astronauts in their helmeted whites Shows flight suits in the cabin.

The autonomously operating spacecraft began its departure with a 90-minute flight around the space station while the crew took a series of survey photos of the outpost in orbit and orbited the globe at an altitude of 400 km.

If all goes well, Endeavor should parachute into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida on Monday (3:30 a.m. GMT Tuesday) at around 10:30 p.m. EST, after a total of eight hours return flight time, including a fiery re-entry through the earth’s atmosphere.

In a final series of maneuvers before exiting Earth orbit, Space Dragon’s crew cabin is designed to dump the vehicle’s lower “auxiliary trunk” to expose the capsule’s protective heat shield.

Driven by a final ignition of its rocket engines for a “de-orbit burn”, the capsule should re-enter the atmosphere at around 28,163 km / h in order to descend in free fall in the direction of the ocean below, which crew communication for several minutes get lost.

Frictional heat generated by the atmosphere when the capsule is submerged typically increases temperatures around the outside of the vehicle to 3,500 degrees F (1,927 degrees C).

The capsule and the crew are to be picked up at sea by a special rescue team that is ready in the Gulf.

The crew consists of two NASA astronauts – mission commander Shane Kimbrough, 54, and pilot Megan McArthur, 50 – along with Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, 52, and fellow mission specialist Thomas Pesquet, 43, a French engineer with the European Space Agency.

They were put into orbit a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 23.

It was the third crew to join NASA’s fledgling public-private partnership with SpaceX, the rocket company founded by billionaire Elon Musk in 2002, which also includes electric car maker Tesla (NASDAQ 🙂 Inc.

The returning team has been dubbed “Crew 2” because it is the second “operational” space station team that NASA has launched aboard a SpaceX capsule since manned spaceflight resumed last year after a nine-year hiatus at the end of the United States Space Shuttle Program in 2011.

The replacement crew “Crew 3” was originally supposed to fly to the space station at the end of October, but this launch was delayed by weather problems and an unspecified medical problem with one of the four crew members.

One anomaly that the returning Crew 2 faced was a pipe leak on board the capsule that put the spacecraft’s toilet out of order and, according to NASA, caused the astronauts to relieve themselves in their spacesuit underwear when the outdoors were during the Flight home called.

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