Three NASA astronauts and a European Space Agency mission specialist departed the International Space Station early Thursday aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule, heading for a dip in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida to conclude a 176-day expedition in orbit.
SpaceX’s Dragon Endurance spacecraft detached from the station’s Harmony module at 1:20 a.m. EDT (0520 GMT), about 15 minutes later than scheduled to allow SpaceX engineers to assess a timing issue on crew cockpit displays associated with data received from NASA’s network data relay. satellites.
As expected, the timing issue resolved itself when the Dragon spacecraft disconnected power and data umbilicals tied to the space station. Twelve hooks opened to allow the capsule to move away from the complex with a series of thruster shots.
In less than half an hour, the Dragon Endurance spacecraft moved outside the space station’s approach corridor. Mission Control confirmed the capsule was on a safe trajectory to begin lining up for re-entry and splashdown early Friday. The Dragon capsule left behind a team of seven astronauts and cosmonauts in the station’s Expedition 67 crew.
“Station, Endurance,” Chari said over the radio after undocking. “Good luck on Expedition 67. It was great being up there with you guys. We can’t wait to see all the awesome work you continue to do on that amazing orbital lab up there.
Chari, pilot Tom Marshburn, astronaut Kayla Barron and ESA mission specialist Matthias Maurer launched the Crew-3 mission Nov. 10, piloting a Falcon 9 rocket into orbit from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Dragon Endurance spacecraft docked with the space station about 21.5 hours later.
SpaceX’s Dragon Endurance spacecraft departed the International Space Station with Commander Raja Chari, Pilot Tom Marshburn, Mission Specialist Kayla Barron and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer.https://t.co/SBbgyLgfnI pic.twitter.com/RShjyThffF
— Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) May 5, 2022
Chari and her crewmates will have some free time in the Dragon spacecraft until back-to-school preparations begin Thursday evening. Astronauts will don their custom-made spacesuits before a deorbit at 11:53 p.m. EDT Thursday (03:53 GMT Friday).
The braking maneuver will slow the spacecraft’s speed enough for Earth’s gravity to pull the capsule back into the atmosphere. The craft will deploy four main parachutes before a relatively gentle drop into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida at 12:43 a.m. EDT (0443 GMT).
With a splashdown just after midnight Friday, the Crew-3 astronauts will have spent more than 176 days in orbit.
Marshburn, a veteran astronaut on his third spaceflight, ceremonially handed over command of the International Space Station crew to Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev on Wednesday, hours before departure.
“It was an interesting day for us,” Marshburn said. “We’ve been flying around the station, collecting our last minute photos, last minute items and getting ready to head home, so a bit of a bittersweet day for all of us.”
“I think for all of us it’s really hard to leave,” Barron said. “We are really looking forward to being reunited with our families and our incredible support network on the ground.”
The Crew-3 astronauts are part of SpaceX’s third operational crew rotation flight to the space station for NASA. The crew was aboard the research outpost as diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia, the station’s two most important partners, frayed following the Russian military invasion from Ukraine.
The fallout from the invasion led to the suspension of many cooperative spaceflight projects between Russia and Western countries, including Soyuz launch operations at the European spaceport in French Guiana, and the indefinite delay of the ESA- Russian ExoMars slated for launch later this year.
But work on the space station continued uninterrupted. The station requires key contributions from the US and Russian segments to maintain its operations.
“I think the lasting legacy of the space station will most likely be international cooperation and a place of peace,” Marshburn said after handing over command to Artemyev. “Oleg, you are a very strong and experienced cosmonaut. I know we will leave the space station in good hands with you.
Artemyev arrived at the station in March with two Russian cosmonaut teammates – Sergey Korsakov and Denis Matveev.
“We had a short time (together)…and now we’re siblings,” Artemyev told the Crew-3 astronauts. “What is more important for me, for Sergey and for Denis, is our family, our children, the peace between our countries and our friendship. Thank you for your friendship.”
The Crew-3 astronauts have been replaced by the recently arrived Crew-4 astronauts, which launched last week on SpaceX’s Dragon Freedom spacecraft. They arrived at the station on April 27 for a mission that was expected to last at least four months.
Chari, Barron and Maurer complete their first space mission.
Marshburn is in the home stretch of his third spaceflight. At a press conference last month, Marshburn said he was looking forward to a hot bath.
“I miss our planet,” he said. “I miss being hidden under the clouds and feeling the rain coming from above and feeling my toes in the sand, the grass.”
One of the highlights of the mission for Marshburn, a physician and former NASA flight surgeon, was watching fellow astronauts experience spaceflight for the first time.
“It’s been an extremely rewarding and wonderful experience to have three teammates,” he said. “They went from rookies to veterans.”
Marshburn added that life aboard the space station was not directly affected by strained relations between Russia and Western nations on Earth.
“It’s been a very collegial and very friendly relationship together here,” Marshburn said. “We really need each other for our survival. It’s a dangerous environment, so we’re just going through our training, recognizing that we’re all here for the same purpose, to explore and keep this space station maintained and to continue doing science in our labs.
“So the dynamic hasn’t changed,” Marshburn said in response to a question from Spaceflight Now. “We have about 40 years of working with the Russians (in space), and all of that is very important in work and play here.”
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