- SpaceX’s Crew Dragon became the first crewed, commercially developed spaceship to dock at the International Space Station in May.
- This weekend, the ship and its astronauts are set to return to Earth. Their flight includes a scorching, speedy fall through our atmosphere.
- Watch the journey live on NASA TV below.
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SpaceX made history in May when it became the first company to launch a crewed spaceship to the International Space Station. In doing so, Elon Musk’s rocket company also revived the US’s ability to launch its own astronauts into space, which hadn’t been possible since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.
Two months later, the mission’s astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, are about to come home in the same spaceship, which they’ve named Endeavour. Their journey includes a fiery return through Earth’s atmosphere.
NASA will stream that flight, as well as the process in which the spaceship undocks from the space station, live this weekend — you can watch below via NASA TV. Here’s the schedule:
On Saturday, August 1, the astronauts will participate in an ISS farewell ceremony around 9:10 a.m. ET. Then NASA’s undocking coverage starts at 5:15 p.m. ET, ahead of the astronauts’ scheduled 7:34 p.m. departure.
Then on Sunday, August 2, assuming all goes well, the Crew Dragon should splash down in the Atlantic Ocean around 2:42 p.m. ET. A news conference later in the day will begin at 5 p.m. ET.
It’s possible, however, that Tropical Storm Isaias could get in the way, forcing SpaceX and NASA to change the schedule. The storm’s wind and rain are expected to hit Florida on Saturday.
What to expect during the Crew Dragon’s return
The first phase of the astronauts’ return journey, undocking, calls for them to enter the Crew Dragon, after which the spaceship should retract the hooks that connect it to the ISS. Assuming all goes according to plan, it’s engines would then gently propel the ship away from the station. Once it’s flying free, the ship is programmed to fire its engines more aggressively to put it on the path toward its splashdown location off the Florida coast.
Then after it’s en route, the ship is expected to shed its trunk, which should burn up in the atmosphere. After the separation is complete, Crew Dragon should hurtle towards Earth at up to 17,500 miles per hour, or nearly 23 times the speed of sound.
During this fall, the spaceship’s heat shield will have to protect the hardware and crew from temperatures of up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Musk has called this part of the journey his “biggest concern.”
After the Crew Dragon reenters the thicker parts of Earth’s atmosphere, it is programmed to deploy two sets of parachutes. The first opens at 18,000 feet, then another set comes at 6,000 feet. After that is the splashdown: The capsule is expected to land in the ocean some 22 to 175 nautical miles off of Florida’s coast.