The men have been aboard the International Space Station for two months after launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in a Dragon Crew Dragon capsule.
Their journey began with a historic May launch that marked the first defeated mission to land from American soil in nearly a decade, and this could be the first of many if the capsule sprays safely down the Florida coast this weekend.
As of Thursday evening, NASA said it was still planning to go ahead with spraying, but “teams will continue to monitor the weather before unblocking Saturday night,”; the space agency said in a tweet.
A safe return is important. Although SpaceX previously launched a Dragon Crew on an immature demonstration mission, the Hurley and Behnken mission is still considered a test. Both men are NASA veteran astronauts and test pilots specially trained to answer any technical issues that may arise in the new vehicle, and NASA will not officially certify the Dragon Crew as a human-value spacecraft. , until it makes a safe return.
And the return journey is, in some respects, an even more dangerous journey than the departure. The crew dragon will have to pass through the Earth’s atmosphere at 17,500 miles per hour. Fast air compression and friction between air and space will heat the exterior of the spacecraft to about 3500 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NASA.
Behnken described his experience reaffirming the atmosphere in previous NASA missions last year: “You actually see light from the atmosphere as the exterior of the spacecraft heats up. You see some orange lights igniting the plasma as it passes through the windows. he said. “The vehicle is going through something quite heavy – and we will hopefully take care of us as it takes us through the entrance.”
Then, as the Dragon Crew approaches Earth, he will place a small group of parachutes, called “drug parachutes,” to begin slowing down his descent in front of a large slab of four parachute fans to slow the vehicle down even further. . If all goes well, the Dragon Crew will travel less than 20 miles per hour when it hits the water.
The astronauts will test much higher G forces in Dragon Crew, Hurley said. And it will mark the first time astronauts have landed on water since 1975.
Even after spraying, the journey can be difficult. Water can propel the spacecraft, making it uncomfortable for astronauts as they wait for recovery vessels to arrive.
“It takes some time so … we will both have the right equipment ready if we are to start feeling a little sick,” Behnken told a news conference Friday. “Hardware,” the astronauts explained, “will be a paper bag, just like those airlines that fit into the pockets of mixed passenger seats.”
Behnken and Hurley will also need to sit in a place with calm weather, so that rough winds and high waves do not interfere with the spraying or recovery process. This means that the weather criteria for spraying are even stricter than it was for the start.
NASA and SpaceX officials will continue to monitor the forecasts all the way until the Dragon Crew restores the atmosphere.
Mother Nature stays have already been a recurring theme of Hurley and Behnken’s journey. Their first attempt to start in May was thwarted by the storm. And during their second (successful) launch attempt on May 31, the counterattack clock struck zero just as another group of storm clouds cleared the sky.
If the weather prevents the Dragon Crew from unlocking this weekend, NASA and SpaceX will try again next Wednesday, August 5th.