The return of the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft has been delayed, as high winds off the coast of Florida threaten the crew’s safe landing. NASA announced Monday that the crew would not return until Saturday, three days after the crew’s planned departure from the International Space Station.
The four-person crew was supposed to return to Earth on Wednesday, with the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of the Florida Panhandle as it’s splashdown target. The mission, known as Crew-1 launched the four astronauts on November 16, 2020, and was the first operational crewed flight of a Crew Dragon spacecraft – developed and built by SpaceX.
NASA released a statement, claiming its team, along with SpaceX managers agree to postpone Crew-1 ‘s undocking and return home, due to weather forecasts of the zones off the Florida coast Crew Dragon is expected to land in. The mission is now supposed to end 11:36 a.m. EDT Saturday, bringing NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi a Japanese mission specialist back to Earth – or rather sea.
“NASA and SpaceX agreed to move Crew-1’s undocking and splashdown from Wednesday, April 28, following a review of forecast weather conditions in the splashdown zones off the coast of Florida, which currently predict wind speeds above the recovery criteria,” NASA officials said in its statement. “Teams will continue to monitor weather conditions for splashdown ahead of Friday’s planned undocking.”
The crew will enter the Dragon capsule late afternoon Friday, and following a final check of the weather forecast, NASA mission control will give the go-ahead for the capsule to undock. Ground teams will continue to monitor weather reports of the targeted landing area as Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft is carried away from the space station and finally re-enters Earth’s atmosphere Saturday.
The four astronauts at the ISS were visited by a second party aboard SpaceX’s Crew-2, which launched on April 22. That spacecraft was nearly intercepted by a UFO which was later classified as a piece of space debris. The successful docking brought four more NASA astronauts, just in time to greet and eventually replace Crew-1. As Crew-1 prepares to undock Friday, Crew-2 is settling in.
When Crew-1 finally departs the ISS, the capsule is expected to land (or splash) in one of seven sites off the Atlantic coast of Florida, its momentum diminished by four overhead parachutes. The exact landing site will depend on the quality of weather in each area.
Once the capsule makes contact with water, the four astronauts will be escorted out by SpaceX recovery teams. After medical checks, the crew will be delivered back to shore by helicopter and will then travel by plane to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston – officially ending the 166-day mission.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Crew-1 made its farewell remarks aboard the International Space Station and issued the change of command.
The eventual landing of Crew-1 depends on the weather conditions Saturday, which as of now, will likely meet the requirements for a safe return home. The criteria for splashdown calls for wind speeds no faster than 12 mph, the perfect mix of wave height and wave periods, as well as a low probability of lightning. If the weather in any of the seven landing points match the criteria, the capsule will be able to lock its target and make a successful landing.
NASA has not released any statements regarding the likelihood of another delay. But with seven landing points, it is probable the four astronauts and the Crew-1 capsule will be back home soon.