The spacecraft is scheduled to land off Pensacola, Fla., Sunday at 2:48 p.m. ET. The safe return of Behnken and Hurley will mark the end of a historic two-month mission and pave the way for the United States to once again become a world leader in human spaceflight.
The astronauts have been aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Dragon Endeavor, since Saturday night when it detached from the International Space Station.
Behnken and Hurley began their historic two-month trip to the ISS in May, when the astronauts launched into their Crew Dragon spacecraft from a ground platform in Florida. It was the first NASA astronaut launch from US soil since 2011 and the first time in history that a commercially developed spacecraft had transported humans into orbit.
Overnight, the vehicle burned a series of engines to lower the vehicle’s altitude, preparing for a dramatic plunge into Earth’s thick atmosphere later that day.
Tropical Storm Isaias, which is speeding towards Florida’s east coast and threatens high winds capable of damaging roofs and buildings, adds to the drama.
NASA and SpaceX have predetermined seven potential sites for this mission, including four west of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico: Pensacola, Tampa, Tallahassee and Panama City. And in this area, the wind and wave heights seem calm enough for the Crew Dragon to land safely.
Still, weather officials are watching the forecast closely and could cancel the splash until the spacecraft begins to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.
Behnken and Hurley – both married to other NASA astronauts – have young families waiting for them at home. Their sons sent a wake-up message to the astronauts this morning.
“Get up and shine daddy, we love you!” We can’t wait to see you – wake up, wake up! … Don’t worry, you can sleep tomorrow. Hurry back so we can go get my dog, ”one of the children said.
The astronauts responded to mission control, “I hope the pressure is on whoever makes the weather call, because these boys seem happy to be taking us home.”
A safe return home is crucial. Although SpaceX previously launched a Crew Dragon on an unmanned demonstration mission, Hurley and Behnken’s mission is still seen as a test. Both men are veteran NASA astronauts and specially trained test pilots to deal with any technical issues that may arise with the new vehicle, and NASA will not officially certify Crew Dragon as a human spacecraft until then. let him make a safe return.