The first astronauts to have reached the International Space Station (ISS) aboard an American aircraft in almost 10 years left Saturday, in the SpaceX capsule, to return to Earth, despite the risk of a hurricane in Florida.
“And here they are!”, Tweeted Nasa announcing that Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley had left the ISS, after broadcasting images showing the capsule detaching slowly and without a hitch from the machine in the darkness of the ‘space.
The undocking was done on time, around 11:34 p.m. GMT, two months after the arrival of the two men on board the capsule created by the company of the eccentric entrepreneur Elon Musk, the US space agency said, adding that it was taking “a safe course”.
The water landing is scheduled for Sunday at 14:41 (1841 GMT) in the Gulf of Mexico. It has been maintained in western Florida, while Tropical Storm Isaias, which could revert to a hurricane, threatens the eastern coasts of the southeastern peninsula of the United States.
A site off the town of Pensacola (in northern Florida) has been selected as “priority” for the water landing, with an alternative in front of Panama City, if the sea is too rough or the winds too strong.
A few hours earlier, the two astronauts had said goodbye to the three colleagues they left behind.
“The hardest part was getting us into orbit, but the most important thing is getting us home,” said Bob Behnken a few hours before the deadline.
The operation is indeed delicate, even if last year, the Dragon capsule accomplished this mission empty and without incident. Atmospheric reentry will test the resistance of the heat shield. Then, you will have to rely on large parachutes to slow the descent to the ocean.
– Dinosaur in zero gravity –
Speaking to his son and that of his colleague, Bob Behnken brandished a small colorful dinosaur, chosen by the children to accompany them in “this historic mission” and which he let fly in weightlessness for a few moments.
“Tremor the apatosaurus is coming home with your dads!” He told them, surrounded by his two Russian colleagues, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, and the head of the mission, Captain Chris Cassidy.
“We say goodbye to our two friends and colleagues,” the latter said, saying to himself both “sad” to see them go and “delighted” that the ISS has new ways “to bring and do leave “astronauts.
Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley became the first astronauts to be transported to the International Space Station, 400 km from Earth, by a private company, under contract with NASA.
The flight, whose departure had already been postponed due to changing weather conditions, also marked the first manned flight launched from the United States since 2011, when the space shuttles were shut down. Americans have since been traveling on Russian rockets.
NASA has tasked SpaceX, which had been delivering cargo to the ISS since 2012, to develop a new space taxi, and if the current mission is certified safe, the Americans will no longer depend on the Russians for access to space.
For three billion dollars, granted since 2011 as part of a fixed price contract, SpaceX has promised NASA six round trips to the ISS, with four astronauts on board.
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet said this week that he will in turn travel aboard Space X’s Crew Dragon for his second mission to the ISS in spring 2021.