Astronauts successfully depart ISS aboard SpaceX Dragon to head home before splashdown Sunday

BREAKING: Astronauts successfully depart ISS aboard SpaceX Dragon to head home before splashdown tomorrow

  • Two Nasa astronauts will make the first splashdown return in 45 years after SpaceX’s astronaut carrier the Crew Dragon successfully undocked from the ISS 
  • Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley began their journey back to Earth amid the threat of Hurricane Isaias, which is edging closer to their landing destination 
  • Their departure from the ISS was announced by SpaceX in a tweet on Saturday 
  • The astronauts made history on May 30 when they became the first people to launch into low-Earth orbit on a commercial spacecraft that was built by SpaceX
  • Their mission, named Demo-2, also marked the first time Nasa launched astronauts from US soil in nine years

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station on Saturday with two US astronauts on board, beginning their journey back to Earth despite a storm threatening Florida.

NASA footage showed the capsule drifting slowly away from the ISS in the darkness of space, closing out two months aboard for the first US astronauts to reach the orbiting lab on an American spacecraft in nearly a decade.

‘And they are off!’ the US space agency tweeted, with Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken set to splash down Sunday.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, shown here separating from the International Space Station, has begun its return journey to Earth

NASA later added the capsule was confirmed to be ‘on a safe trajectory.’

Their proposed splash-down sites are off the coast of western Florida’s panhandle, while tropical storm Isaias is headed toward the state’s east coast.

NASA opted to go ahead with bringing the pair home despite the threat of Isaias, which was downgraded to a tropical storm from a hurricane on Saturday.

‘Now is the entry, descent and splashdown phase after we undock, hopefully a little bit later today,’ Hurley said in a farewell ceremony aboard the ISS that was broadcast on NASA TV.

On entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the Crew Dragon will face scorching temperatures of around 1,900C as it deploys parachutes to slow its speed down to around 119 miles per hour, before landing on the ocean.

The splashdown is the final step in the mission designed to test SpaceX’s human spaceflight system – including launch, docking, splashdown, and recovery operations. 

The last time astronauts made an ocean landing was on July 1975 during an Apollo mission. 

This NASA video frame grab image shows SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft with NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken watching an infrared view of the ISS on their screens after undocking from it

This NASA video frame grab image shows SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft with NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken watching an infrared view of the ISS on their screens after undocking from it

‘The teams are working really hard, especially with the dynamics of the weather over the next few days around Florida,’ he said.

Earlier, during the ISS ceremony, Behnken said that ‘the hardest part was getting us launched. But the most important part is bringing us home.’

Addressing his son and Hurley’s son, he held up a toy dinosaur that the children chose to send on the mission and said: ‘Tremor The Apatosaurus is headed home soon and he’ll be with your dads.’

Behnken later tweeted: ‘All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go.’

Mission chief Chris Cassidy called it an ‘exciting day’ and hailed the importance of having a new means to transport astronauts.

Bob Behnken (r) and Doug Hurley (l) blasted off from Cape Canaveral on May 30 on board a SpaceX Crew Dragon, and are supposed to splash down off the coast of Florida on Sunday

Bob Behnken (r) and Doug Hurley (l) blasted off from Cape Canaveral on May 30 on board a SpaceX Crew Dragon, and are supposed to splash down off the coast of Florida on Sunday

The mission, which blasted off May 30, marked the first time a crewed spaceship had launched into orbit from American soil since 2011 when the space shuttle program ended.

It was also the first time a private company has flown to the ISS carrying astronauts. 

The US has paid SpaceX and aerospace giant Boeing a total of about $7 billion for their ‘space taxi’ contracts.

But Boeing’s program has floundered badly after a failed test run late last year, which left SpaceX, a company founded only in 2002, as clear frontrunner.

For the past nine years, US astronauts traveled exclusively on Russian Soyuz rockets, for a price of around $80 million per seat.

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