SpaceX returns 4 astronauts back to Earth, ending nearly 200-day flight

, SpaceX returns 4 astronauts back to Earth, ending nearly 200-day flight, The Evepost Huff News

A team of astronauts safely splashed down off the Florida coast late Monday, setting the stage for the next NASA and SpaceX crew to launch from Kennedy Space Center this week.

Crew-2 astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide, and Thomas Pesquet descended into serene waters south of Pensacola, Florida, at 10:33 p.m. ET, wrapping up an eight-hour journey from the International Space Station. The team’s Crew Dragon capsule was then hoisted out of the Gulf of Mexico and onto a SpaceX ship, where helicopters waited to transport Crew-2 back to the mainland.

Mission elapsed time: just hours shy of 200 days since launching from KSC in April.

“Great to be back to planet Earth,” mission commander Kimbrough said just after splashdown. “Thanks to NASA, (European Space Agency), and (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) teams. It was an honor to represent you.”

“To our families: we look forward to seeing you soon,” Kimbrough said.

Kimbrough and McArthur are NASA astronauts. Hoshide joined Crew-2 on behalf of Japan; Pesquet represented ESA and his home country of France. After medical checkouts on the ship and a brief helicopter ride, they flew back to their home base at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

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Next up is Crew-3, which was slated to launch on Halloween but has been delayed by weather conditions and a minor medical issue with one of its four crew members. With splashdown complete, teams are now focusing on launching NASA astronauts Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, and ESA’s Matthias Maurer no earlier than 9:03 p.m. Wednesday.

Conditions look good for Wednesday night: 80% “go” for launch conditions and “low-risk” for weather along the trajectory, according to the Space Force. Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon will launch toward the northeast.

What remains to be seen is if teams can be ready — it’s not entirely clear if recovery crews on-hand Monday night would be needed for Wednesday’s launch attempt. Because Crew Dragon can abort a launch and escape from a failing rocket, sea recovery teams need to be prepared in the event that Crew-3 splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean.

Monday night’s successful splashdown marked SpaceX’s third successful crewed mission for NASA and fourth overall when including privately purchased flights. Crew-3 will become the company’s fifth, but during its six-month stay on the ISS, the company is expected to launch at least one more fully commercial mission with private astronauts.

Boeing and its Starliner spacecraft were also selected for the NASA astronaut program known as Commercial Crew, which was designed to replace the space shuttle. Starliner, however, has been plagued by hardware and software issues and isn’t slated to launch a second uncrewed test flight until later in 2022.

, SpaceX returns 4 astronauts back to Earth, ending nearly 200-day flight, The Evepost Huff News

, SpaceX returns 4 astronauts back to Earth, ending nearly 200-day flight, The Evepost Huff News

Follow Emre Kelly on Twitter @EmreKelly.