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Watch SpaceX make the first night splash since 1968

Four astronauts bring red eyes home to Earth.

At 8:35 p.m. EST on Saturday, a crew of four – three astronauts from NASA and one from the Japanese Space Agency – left the International Space Station in a capsule built by SpaceX.

“Thank you for your hospitality, sorry we stayed a little longer,” said Michael Hopkins, the captain of Crew Dragon Resilience, referring to the flight departure being delayed by the weather conditions. “We will see you on Earth again.”

Astronauts circled the planet several times over the next few hours until they splashed early Sunday morning in the Gulf of Mexico south of Panama City, Florida.

NASA hasn’t conducted a night-time splash like this since 1968, when Apollo 8, the first mission to send astronauts around the moon, returned to Earth.

The approximate time of the splash is 2:57 a.m. EST Sunday. SpaceX in an update on Saturday afternoon reported that weather conditions were still favorable for a landing.

The agency has scheduled a press conference with NASA, SpaceX and other officials for Sunday at 5 a.m.

NASA and SpaceX are streaming coverage of these operations live on NASA TV or you can watch the video in the player built-in above.

It will be a long journey. The astronauts boarded the Crew Dragon and the hatch closed at 6:26 p.m., but more than two hours passed before the capsule left as the astronauts checked for leaks. air from the capsule, called Resilience, or from the space station. Resilience undocked autonomously at 8:35 p.m., then fired a series of thruster shots to get away from the space station.

SpaceX has confirmed that the rocket launch were completed at 10:17 p.m.. The capsule will now go around the plant until the Florida aligns in the correct position for it to splash into the Gulf of Mexico.

Just before 2 a.m., as it prepares for its return to Earth, the Crew Dragon will drop what SpaceX calls the “trunk” section of the spacecraft – the cylindrical compartment under the drop-shaped capsule. The chest will burn in the atmosphere.

Five minutes after detaching from the trunk, the capsule will trigger its thrusters to exit orbit.

Once it is low enough in Earth’s atmosphere, the parachutes will deploy to gently lower the capsule into the sea.

Spacecraft can return to Earth safely on water or on land.

During the 1960s and 1970s, NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules all splashed into the ocean as Soviet capsules completed all of their land journeys. Russia’s current Soyuz capsules continue to make ground landings, as do Shenzhou capsules carrying Chinese astronauts.

NASA returned to water landings on August 2, 2020, when the first crew returning to Earth in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule – the same that carried the astronauts to the space station last week – crashed near Pensacola, Florida.

The return of the free-falling orbit environment to normal forces of gravity on Earth is often confusing for astronauts. A landing on the water adds the possibility of seasickness.

At a press conference last year, Douglas Hurley, a member of the previous crew who made a water landing in the SpaceX capsule, said he had read reports from astronauts on the missions. NASA’s Skylab, some of the last before him to make water landings. “There were a few challenges after the splash,” he said. “People weren’t feeling good, and you know, that’s the way it is with a landing on the water, even though you’re not unpacked like we will be.”

Mr. Hurley acknowledged that the vomiting would not be unexpected.

“There are bags if you need them, and we’ll have them on hand,” he says. He added that “if this were to happen, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time this has happened in a space vehicle.”

U.S. spacecraft have not performed night landings by astronauts since Apollo 8, according to NASA.

This crew arrived before dawn on December 27, 1968, approximately 1,000 miles southwest of Hawaii. The next day, The Times called it a “one-time splashdown” and noted that the crew remained in their capsule for about 90 minutes before being rescued from the Pacific Ocean by a team of USS helicopters. Yorktown. William Anders, the mission’s lunar module pilot, said over the radio while in the capsule, “Get us out of here, I’m not the sailor on this ship.” (James Lovell, his teammate, had been a captain in the US Navy.)

SpaceX repeated the night shift, and in January it successfully recovered a cargo capsule that splashed in the Gulf of Mexico west of Tampa Bay.

One of the benefits of a night landing could be that there will likely be fewer private boats around. It was a problem in August when the previous SpaceX capsule splashed. More than a dozen boats – one of them flying the Trump campaign flag – converged on the burnt capsule, and a few got a closer look.

The episode raised concerns among officials at NASA and SpaceX about safety and security procedures. If there had been an emergency, NASA officials said, private boats could have hampered recovery efforts. They added that there could have been toxic fumes from the capsule which posed a risk to boaters.

To avoid such an outcome, the Coast Guard will this time establish an 11.5 mile safety zone around the splashdown site and hunt intruders.

Generally, the risk of space debris striking a spacecraft on its way to or from the space station is low. It’s usually a pretty short trip – about a day – and a spaceship like Crew Dragon is pretty small, so it’s not a big target for a finicky piece of debris.

But when another group of astronauts, Crew-2, launched last week in another Crew Dragon, they got a little scared when mission control at SpaceX headquarters in California told them that a piece of debris was heading towards them. They put their spacesuits back on and climbed back into their seats in case the spacecraft was hit, which could cause the capsule to depressurize.

Mission control then provided a reassuring update: Further analysis indicated that the closest approach to space debris was not that close after all. However, as a precaution, the astronauts waited to be told that the space debris had passed.

The next day, a NASA spokesperson said the debris had passed a distance of 28 miles – not very close at all.

Then the United States Space Command, which tracks the debris in orbit, made a more puzzling update: The piece of debris that would have passed through the Crew Dragon never existed at all. A Space Command spokeswoman said a review is underway to determine the cause of the spurious warning.

There are four astronauts on Crew-1:

Victor glover, 45, selected by NASA in 2013 to be an astronaut, is on his first space flight. He is also the first black NASA astronaut to be part of a space station crew.

Michael S. Hopkins, 52, a United States Space Force colonel, is the flight commander. (Colonel Hopkins is also the first member of the newly formed US Space Force to go into space.) He was one of nine astronauts selected by NASA in 2009. He has previously made a trip to the Station. space, in 2013-14, spend 166 days in orbit.

Soichi Noguchi, 56, an astronaut from JAXA, the Japanese space agency, completes his third space trip. He was a member of the Space Shuttle Discovery crew in 2005, during the first shuttle launch after the loss of Columbia and its seven astronauts more than two years earlier.

During this visit to the International Space Station, Mr. Noguchi conducted three spacewalks. This included one for testing techniques developed to repair damage to heat tiles on the shuttle, similar to what had doomed Columbia when it returned to Earth’s atmosphere. In 2009-10, he spent five months in orbit as a space station crew member.

Shannon walker, 55, previously visited the space station in 2010. Ms. Walker holds a doctorate in space physics from Rice University, where she studied how the solar wind interacts with the atmosphere of Venus.

The space station has been a little more crowded than usual since another SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, Endeavor, docked on Saturday, April 24. the record for most on board is 13). The four astronauts leave seven astronauts behind – three from NASA, two from the Russian space agency Roscosmos, one from the European Space Agency and one from JAXA.

But while they were there, they conducted science experiments, including tissue fleas that mimic human organs and grew radishes and other vegetables. They also conducted spacewalks to install equipment outside the space station, including preparing it for new solar panels.

And just before they left, Mr. Glover celebrated his 45th birthday in orbit.

Other astronauts were also savoring their final moments in orbit with images posted on Twitter.

If the landing is similar to the return from last August, SpaceX personnel will go to the capsule, check it is intact and not leaking toxic propellants, and retrieve the parachutes.

A larger recovery vessel will pull the capsule out of the water. The hatch is then opened for the four astronauts to exit.

After the medical checks, the astronauts will head for the shore. From there they will fly to Houston. The capsule will be transported to Cape Canaveral, where it will be refurbished for another flight into space.

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