Crew-1 astronauts’ return to Earth again pushed back due to weather in splashdown zones

NASA, SpaceX to meet Friday to determine new target date

The four SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts, gather around a laptop computer to join a video conference with former NASA astronaut Edward Gibson. From left are, Michael Hopkins of NASA, Soichi Noguchi of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), and NASA astronauts Shannon Walker and Victor Glover. (Image: NASA)
The four SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts, gather around a laptop computer to join a video conference with former NASA astronaut Edward Gibson. From left are, Michael Hopkins of NASA, Soichi Noguchi of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), and NASA astronauts Shannon Walker and Victor Glover. (Image: NASA) (NASA 2021)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – Four astronauts will spend even more time on board the International Space Station than initially thought.

The splashdown return to Earth for NASA and SpaceX’s Crew-1 team has been delayed again due to weather conditions in the landing zone, according to the space agency.

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“NASA and SpaceX have decided to move Crew-1′s undocking and splashdown from Friday, April 30, and Saturday, May 1, respectively, following a review of the forecast weather conditions in the splashdown zones off the coast of Florida, which continue to predict wind speeds above the return criteria,” a Friday update from NASA said.

Friday’s delay marks the second time the splashdown has been postponed due to weather. The astronauts’ return was first pushed back earlier this week from Wednesday to Saturday.

It’s now unclear when the undocking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Resilience, from the International Space Station and splashdown will take place. NASA and SpaceX officials plan to meet Friday to determine a new target date for a safe return.

“Crew Dragon is in great health on the space station, and teams will continue to look for the optimal conditions for both splashdown and recovery,” NASA said Friday.

ORIGINAL STORY

After becoming the first long-duration mission to arrive at the International Space Station via a private company’s spacecraft, four astronauts plan to depart the orbiting laboratory Wednesday and splashdown in the Crew Dragon capsule hours later.

SpaceX Crew-1 mission astronauts including Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, all of NASA, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have been on station since they launched from Florida in November on the Crew Dragon capsule called Resilience.

Following the arrival of another team of Dragon riders, known as the Crew-2 mission, the astronauts are set to undock from the ISS Wednesday beginning at 7:05 a.m. and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico around 12:40 p.m.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins and Noguchi answered questions Monday from reporters as they prepare to say farewell.

Each crew member shared their favorite memory of their six-month mission.

For Noguchi, it happened just a few days ago when another Dragon spacecraft docked bringing the Crew-2 astronauts to station.

“Most memorable was yes, two days ago, when the door opens and all four friends come into the space station,” the JAXA astronaut said. “This is our communities, looking for new members coming, taking over. We have a great camaraderie.”

Walker echoed those sentiments and enjoyed spending time with her crewmates and the Russian cosmonauts.

“High on my list is the camaraderie amongst the crew — camaraderie amongst our international partners when we get to spend time with our cosmonaut colleagues who work in a different part of the station most of the time than we do — is just really nice to have this International Brotherhood (and) sisterhood up here,” she said.

Hopkins chuckled that he was jealous of the incoming astronauts’ complexions.

“It was kind of funny watching them come across the hatch and seeing how tan they were two after spending a week in Florida compared to compared to us,” Hopkins said exchanging laughs with the others.

He also bragged he’s had the best view of his crewmates. Hopkins has been sleeping in Dragon Resilience during his stay due to a shortage of astronaut quarters on station but he has the only room with a view.

“The views, now from the top of station have just been absolutely stunning,” Hopkins said.

For Glover, this marked his first spaceflight, and said every moment was special for him but seeing his home planet after Dragon Resilience was in orbit is something he will never forget.

“I looked out the window and saw the Earth from 250 miles up. I will never forget that moment, and I actually recorded it because I really wanted to remember how I felt,” Glover said. “It wasn’t about the view, it was how the view made me feel and that every time I look out the window in the cupola I still feel the same way, Earth is amazing is beautiful. It protects us and so we should work hard to protect it.”

NASA and SpaceX won’t be revealing the exact location of the capsule splashdown after learning their lesson from the first Dragon return with astronauts last year. Boaters swarmed the landing site in the Gulf despite being told to stay back for their own safety. The spacecraft has hazardous and explosive chemicals, including nitrogen tetroxide and hydrazine which is why trained professionals retrieve the capsule from the water and check for any potential hazards before opening the hatch.

“This is the time that you go learn about these things and we’ll certainly be better prepared next time,” SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell said after the August splashdown.

During the briefing Monday, Hopkins was asked about extra precautions and why it’s dangerous for the public to approach the landing site.

“We’re OK in the capsule typically but it’s the people in the boats that could be really at the most risk,” Hopkins said. “And so really I think it’s the danger for them that we really need to be aware of and so that’s why it’s very important for them to stay away and a safe distance and allow the recovery teams to do their jobs and make sure that there aren’t any of those ... dangerous materials like that that could hurt people.”

Walker has been commander of the space station and will hand over those duties to JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, of the Crew-2 mission, during a change of command ceremony. He will become the first Japanese astronaut to command the station.

The Crew-2 astronauts arrived Saturday after a pre-dawn launching from Kennedy Space Center in Florida Friday morning. Technically, Crew-2 is the second long-duration mission, but they are the third group of astronauts to arrive to ISS via SpaceX. NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken became the first during a test flight in May last year, ending a 9-year gap in human spaceflight from the U.S.

The astronauts will also be returning as the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much ongoing even with vaccinations ramping up worldwide.

Walker said the astronauts have been told by flight doctors they can get the vaccine about 10 days after they return to Earth.

“I know all of us were hoping that when we landed, or when we will land that the pandemic would be at a different stage. That being said, people are being vaccinated in the US and so things are looking better,” Walker said.

The astronauts will be in a semi-quarantine when they return because their post-spaceflight immune systems are slightly depressed but then the Crew-1 astronauts plan on masking up like everyone else.

“We definitely have enjoyed not wearing masks up here and having to go back and wear masks as well, it’s what we will do, because that is the right thing to do,” Walker said.

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