The dragons are flying this week as one SpaceX Crew Dragon returns four astronauts to Earth just two days before a Falcon 9 rocket is set to loft four more to orbit on NASA’s Crew-3 mission.
Originally, Crew-3 was supposed to blast off from Florida while the Crew-2 astronauts were still aboard the International Space Station. After welcoming the new folks aboard, the Crew-2 group would then rotate out and climb into one of the Dragon capsules docked to the ISS for the ride home. But uncooperative weather has forced delays of both the Crew-2 undocking and the Crew-3 launch.
High winds near the splashdown site forced NASA to push back the Crew-2 return from Sunday to Monday night. Meanwhile, Crew-3’s launch, which was originally planned for Halloween, has been postponed multiple times due to weather and a minor medical issue with one astronaut. It’s now set for Wednesday.
The Crew-2 group comprises NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Aki Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet. The quartet were the third crew overall to fly in a SpaceX Crew Dragon and will have spent 199 days in space, pending any further delays to their departure. The reusable spacecraft they’ll be riding home will also be packed with about a quarter-ton of equipment and scientific experiments.
The astronauts will climb into the Crew Dragon late Monday morning, with the hatch scheduled to close at 9:40 a.m. PT (12:40 p.m. ET).
The spacecraft, nicknamed Endeavour, will then undock itself from the space station autonomously, fly around the ISS to take some photos and then head for a splashdown at one of seven possible landing spots off the coast of Florida.
NASA is targeting the Crew-2 splashdown to happen no earlier than 7:33 p.m. PT (10:33 p.m. ET) Monday. You can watch the whole end of the mission via NASA’s livestream right here.
The current launch target for Crew-3 is less than 48 hours later, at 6:03 p.m. PT (9:03 p.m. ET) Wednesday. That Crew Dragon capsule, nicknamed Endurance, would then dock with the ISS about 22 hours later, at 4:10 p.m. PT (7:10 p.m. ET) on Thursday.