NASA, SpaceX mission: astronauts return home from the International Space Station

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Four astronauts are scheduled to board a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and return home from the International Space Station on Friday, ending their nearly six-month stay aboard the orbiting lab.

The astronauts – NASA’s Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins as well as Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency or ESA – shared farewell hugs with other space station astronauts and hugged each other. tethered to their spacecraft around 10 a.m. ET.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft left its ISS docking port around noon ET, and it will burn its engines several times to gradually lower its altitude. It is expected to splash in Florida on Friday afternoon.

The crew was originally scheduled to depart the space station on Wednesday evening, but ground crews backed out of that attempt due to bad weather. Thunderstorms also wiped out a second return attempt on Thursday morning.

On Thursday afternoon, NASA was monitoring potential weather issues at crew-designated splash sites, noting that a cold front was moving through Florida, according to a statement. Weather officials were confident Friday’s weather would be more favorable as a high pressure system moved through the region.

Weather delays to the launch or return of spacecraft from the space station are common, especially as unpredictable storms hit spashdown sites off Florida.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft that will bring astronauts home usually has seven potential landing zones – just off Pensacola, Tampa, Tallahassee, Panama City, Cape Canaveral, Daytona and Jacksonville.

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

This 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.

While there, the astronauts conducted scientific experiments, including researching how to grow vegetables in space without soil and studying the effects of spaceflight on the human body.

These experiments are designed to help astronauts understand how they might one day grow their own food and how their bodies might respond on missions deeper in space, such as on NASA’s planned Artemis lunar missions, Watkins said during from a press briefing last week.

“It was awesome to be able to walk into the Columbus module and smell the leaves growing, the plants growing,” Watkins told reporters.

Cristoforetti, who participated in a previous mission to the space station in 2014-2015, is the only woman in the ESA astronaut corps, and she made history with her own mission. Last month, she took command of the space station, becoming the first European woman to do so.

Cristoforetti also performed a spacewalk in July to deploy small satellites and work on installing a new robotic arm outside the space station.

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