CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA’s first astronauts to launch from U.S. soil since 2011 will return in their SpaceX spacecraft as soon as Aug. 2, the space agency confirms.
Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken made history on May 30 when SpaceX launched the pair from Kennedy Space Center on a Falcon 9 rocket in the new Crew Dragon spacecraft.
They were the first to hitch a ride to the International Space Station on Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon. The launch marked the return of American astronauts launching from Florida’s coast for the first time in nearly nine years.
Behnken and Hurley arrived at the ISS about 19 hours after launch and have been hard at work on the station now for about seven weeks.
Before he departs, Behnken is set to complete his fourth and final spacewalk during this mission on July 21, alongside NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. The astronauts have been working outside the space station to upgrade the power system, replacing aging nickel-hydrogen batteries with new lithium-ion batteries and adapter plates. The power upgrade maintenance project has been 3.5 years in progress, according to NASA.
At the time of their launch, NASA officials said Hurley and Behnken could stay on the ISS for up to four months depending on when the next crew would be ready to fly. SpaceX and NASA are targeting September for the next launch of Dragon with astronauts from Kennedy Space Center.
On Friday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said SpaceX and NASA are targeting Aug. 1 for a departure of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endeavour by its passengers, and a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 2.
NEWS: We're targeting an Aug. 1 departure of @SpaceX's Dragon Endeavour spacecraft from the @Space_Station to bring @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug home after their historic #LaunchAmerica mission. Splashdown is targeted for Aug. 2. Weather will drive the actual date. Stay tuned. pic.twitter.com/VOCV51gzLi— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) July 17, 2020
NASA public affairs officer Gary Jordan, for the International Space Station, said in an email the agency will release more information next week about the splashdown.
The astronauts’ return home could shift due to weather.
For the recovery of the Dragon spacecraft, there are certain weather criteria that need to be met for a safe landing and pickup of the capsule.
Lightning, rain, wind speeds and wave height are weather items the recovery teams will be closely monitoring ahead of the splashdown.
The astronaut splashdown recovery will be reminiscent of the Apollo era but in 21st Century style.
Since 2011, NASA astronauts have landed in Russia when they return from space. NASA has paid the Russian space agency about $84 million a seat to fly its astronauts to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX and Boeing were selected in 2014 to develop American-made spacecraft to take over transporting NASA astronauts to space.