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Pending weather, NASA astronauts still ‘Go’ for Sunday splashdown in SpaceX Dragon Endeavour

Hurricane Isaias eyes Florida's east coast as astronauts plan return to Earth

NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken walk out of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building on their way to Pad 39-A, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, May 30, 2020. The two astronauts will fly on a SpaceX test flight to the International Space Station. For the first time in nearly a decade, astronauts will blast into orbit aboard an American rocket from American soil, a first for a private company. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken walk out of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building on their way to Pad 39-A, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, May 30, 2020. The two astronauts will fly on a SpaceX test flight to the International Space Station. For the first time in nearly a decade, astronauts will blast into orbit aboard an American rocket from American soil, a first for a private company. (AP Photo/John Raoux) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Two NASA astronauts are preparing to become the first to complete their spaceflight on SpaceX’s new Dragon spacecraft nicknamed Endeavour but Hurricane Isaias may foil those plans.

Unfazed by the weather woes, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken told reporters Friday if their planned splashdown off Florida’s coast in Dragon Endeavour gets delayed they have plenty of “chow” and work to do on the International Space Station.

The astronauts joined their fellow NASA crew member Chris Cassidy on the ISS at the end of May following a historic launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center, the first human launch there since 2011. Now it’s time for them to return home as another crew is set to launch on a Crew Dragon spacecraft at the end of September.

“I still don’t feel nervous about it and really, we’re focused on the things that we’ll need to do to be as safe as possible as, as we come back,” Behnken said from the ISS Friday about the splashdown.

The spacecraft has performed well. NASA and SpaceX officials said there are no issues following a flight readiness review earlier in the week. The only problem now is that about half of the seven landing options on Florida’s coasts are in the cone of Hurricane Isaias.

Weather updates are coming regularly for the astronauts and will increase to hourly as their Saturday departure nears, Behnken said. SpaceX needs at least two of its seven landing options to have good conditions before the spacecraft can come down.

“We won’t leave the space station without some good landing opportunities in front of us ... and so they’re keeping us informed but the lion’s share of that work happens on their end, we don’t control the weather and we know we can stay up here longer,” Behnken said.

On Wednesday, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stich said the most difficult weather criteria to meet will be wind that needs to be below 10 mph. Wave height, rain, lightning and flying conditions for the helicopters used in the recovery are also factors.

“What we are really trying to do is set ourselves up to have these constraints be met prior to undock at two sites,” Stich said. “So we are really looking for two sites to be go at undock.”

Currently, the SpaceX capsule is scheduled to undock from the space station Saturday evening and splashdown in the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico along Florida’s coast Sunday at 2:42 p.m. ET.

Hurley said the journey back to Earth will include some sleeping and eating until they get closer to landing then they will be busy preparing for splashdown.

“Once we wake up, we will eat, fluid load, go through suit up, and then work our way into the entry portion of the flight and then the deorbit burn, then entry. So we’ll be fairly busy when we’re awake throughout the whole process,” Hurley said. “Those last probably two and a half to three hours will be very busy as we get suited up, strapped into our seats and then we’ll be monitoring all the different systems of the vehicle, ensuring that it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing as we work our way back towards Florida.”

The astronauts will experience several Gs on the return home but the barf bags will be ready.

“We’ll both have the appropriate hardware ready should we start feeling a little bit sick on board while we’re in the vehicle after splashdown,” Behnken said.

Hurley added that the “hardware” includes some bags and towels if the need arises.

If they can’t return home Sunday or during a backup opportunity Monday, the astronauts said they are fine camping out a bit longer 200 miles above Earth.

“There’s more chow and I know the space station programs got more work that we can do for those (principal investigators) and other folks that have sent science up here to the space station,” Behnken said.

Both astronauts said they are most excited to see their families when they do return to Earth. Hurley and Behnken both have young sons. Behnken’s wife NASA astronaut Megan McArthur will fly on the same Dragon Endeavour spacecraft next year. Hurley is married to retired NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg.

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