NASA, SpaceX Mission: Astronauts return home from the International Space Station

NASA, SpaceX Mission: Astronauts return home from the International Space Station

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Four astronauts boarded the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and are expected to return home from the International Space Station on Friday, ending their nearly six-month stay at the orbiting laboratory.

The astronauts — NASA’s Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins as well as Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti — hugged goodbye with other astronauts at the space station with the European Space Agency, or ESA, and strapped into their spacecraft around 10 a.m.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft left its docking port on the ISS at noon ET and will burn its engines several times to slowly lower its altitude. It is expected to dissipate from Florida by Friday afternoon.

The crew was initially scheduled to leave the space station Wednesday evening, but ground crews canceled that attempt bad weather. Storm made a second attempt to return Thursday morning.

As of Thursday afternoon, NASA crews were monitoring potential weather problems at designated splashdown sites as a cold front moved through Florida, according to a statement. Weather officials were confident that Friday’s weather would be more favorable as a high-pressure system moved into the area.

Weather delays in spacecraft launches or returns from the space station are common, especially as unexpected storms hit Florida’s splashdown sites.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft that will bring the astronauts home usually remains Seven possible landing zones – Just off the coast of Pensacola, Tampa, Tallahassee, Panama City, Cape Canaveral, Daytona and Jacksonville.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting Jacksonville for Friday’s splashdown.

The mission, called Crew-4, marked a historic first, with Watkins becoming the first black woman to join the space station crew for an extended stay.

During their stay, the astronauts conducted science experiments, including research into how to grow vegetables in space without soil and studying the effects of spaceflight on the human body.

The experiments are designed to help astronauts understand how they might one day grow their own food and how their bodies might respond to missions deep in space, such as NASA’s planned Artemis moon mission, Watkins said during a news briefing last week.

“It’s been great to be able to walk into the Columbus module and smell the plants growing, the smell of the plants,” Watkins told reporters.

Cristoforetti, who was on a previous mission to the space station in 2014-2015, is the only woman in ESA’s astronaut corps and made history on this mission. Last month, she took over as commander of the space station, becoming the first European woman to do so.

Cristoforetti also conducted a spacewalk to the deployment in July small satellite and the installation of a new robotic arm on the exterior of the space station.

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