US astronauts prepare for rare splashdown in SpaceX capsule

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This photo provided by NASA shows, left to right, astronauts Bob Behnken, Chris Cassidy and Doug Hurley during an interview on the International Space Station on Friday, July 31, 2020.

The Associated Press

Two US astronauts about to make the first backwater in 45 years said on Friday they would have seasickness bags ready for use if needed.

SpaceX and NASA plan to return Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on Sunday afternoon in the company’s Dragon capsule, targeting the Gulf of Mexico just off the Florida Panhandle. Flight controllers are keeping a close watch on Hurricane Isaias, which is expected to remain on Florida’s east coast.

Hurley said if he and Behnken got sick from jumping in the waves while waiting for their recovery, it wouldn’t be the first time for a crew. Astronauts returning in the early 1970s from Skylab, NASA’s first space station, were not feeling well after the splash, Hurley noted.

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Feeling sick “it’s like that with a landing on water,” he said at the crew’s last press conference from the International Space Station.

This will be SpaceX’s first splashdown with astronauts on board, ending a two-month test flight that began May 30 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center – the first launch by a US crew since almost a decade. The capsule has been docked at the space station since May 31, allowing Hurley and Behnken to participate in spacewalks and experiments.

Hurley said emergency and other equipment worked well aboard the Dragon, nicknamed Endeavor. The launch and the meeting went off without a hitch, “so we don’t expect anything different for the splashdown,” he said.

Their departure leaves three on board, an American and two Russians.

After the splash, it will take about an hour before the capsule is crane-transported to a SpaceX salvage ship, where the hatch will be opened and the astronauts will exit. Air surgeons will be among dozens of members of the recovery team.

The plan is for the Dragon to detach from the space station on Saturday, a day before the splash. The main target is off Panama City, halfway between Tallahassee and Pensacola.

“We will not leave the space station without good landing opportunities in front of us, a good dive time,” Behnken told reporters. “We could stay here longer. There is more food and I know the space station program has more work than we can do.

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Like the launch, the return will be largely automated, with the crew and flight controllers intervening only when necessary.

Behnken has one more reason to get this dragon back into good shape. After the renovation, the capsule will fly again next spring with a crew of four – including his wife, NASA astronaut Megan McArthur. SpaceX’s next astronaut flight is scheduled for late September.

Behnken said that even before her launch, they had an idea that she would be assigned to a SpaceX flight. NASA announced the news this week.

“And of course, I’ll have a lot of advice for her,” he says.

Hurley is married to Karen Nyberg, a recently retired NASA astronaut.

NASA turned to SpaceX and Boeing for US-based crew transport after the space shuttles retired in 2011. Russian rockets were the only way for astronauts to get to the space station until for SpaceX to become the first private company to launch humans into orbit two months ago. The first Boeing crew flight is not expected until next year.

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