SpaceX astronauts poised for Sunday return

The two NASA astronauts who rode to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon are heading home on Sunday, capping a two-month voyage in space that marked NASA’s first crewed mission from home soil in nine years, news wires reported. Crew Dragon “Endeavor” decoupled from the orbital station carrying Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley ahead of a Sunday afternoon splashdown off the coast of Pensacola, Florida.

“It’s been a great two months, and we appreciate all you’ve done as a crew to help us prove out Dragon on its maiden flight,” Hurley told the remaining US station crew member Chris Cassidy, as Crew Dragon autonomously eased away from its docking port to begin the 21-hour journey home. NASA and SpaceX ruled out splashdown options in the Atlantic earlier this week due to Tropical Storm Isaias, a cyclone expected to churn alongside Florida’s east coast as a hurricane in the coming days. 

Upon a successful splashdown at 2:48 p.m. ET Sunday, the spacecraft will have completed its final key test to prove it can transport astronauts to and from space, a task SpaceX has accomplished dozens of times with its cargo-only capsule but never before with humans aboard. “The hardest part was getting us launched, but the most important part is bringing us home,” Behnken said during a farewell ceremony early on Saturday aboard the space station.

The mission marked the first time NASA launched humans from US soil since its shuttle program retired in 2011. Since then the US has relied on Russia’s space program to launch its astronauts to the space station. NASA officials have said Crew Dragon, an acorn-shaped pod that can seat up to seven astronauts, has been in a “very healthy” condition since docking to the space station, where astronauts have been conducting tests and monitoring how the spacecraft performs over time in space.

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