Sunday, December 5, 2021

Four station astronauts catch a ride with SpaceX back home

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (NWN) — Four astronauts in orbit since spring flew back to Earth Monday, aiming to make a late-night splashdown off the Florida coast.

The undocking of their SpaceX capsule from the International Space Station paved the way for the launch of four of their replacements on Wednesday night itself.

The newcomers were earlier scheduled to launch, but NASA changed the order due to bad weather and an unknown medical condition of an astronaut. The reception is now left to the American and two Russians on the space station alone.

NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan MacArthur, Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide and France’s Thomas Pesquet were supposed to return Monday morning, but high winds in the recovery zone delayed their return home. Their spraying was planned from Pensacola to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Another night with this magical sight. Who could have complained? I will miss our spacecraft!” Pesquet tweeted alongside a brief video that shows the space station illuminated against the blackness of space and the twinkling city lights of Earth at night.

From the space station, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei — in the middle of a year-long flight — bid farewell to each of his departing friends, saying to MacArthur “I’ll miss hearing your laughter in the adjacent module.”

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Before leaving the neighborhood, the four circled the space station to take pictures. It was the first time SpaceX attempted to fly this way; NASA shuttles used to do this all the time before their retirement a decade ago.

It was not the most comfortable ride. The toilet in their capsule was broken, and so the astronauts needed to rely on diapers for the eight-hour journey home. He brushed it off last weekend as just one more challenge in his mission.

The first issue arose shortly after their April liftoff; Mission Control warned that a piece of space junk was threatening to hit their capsule. It turned out to be a false alarm. Then in July, thrusters on a newly arriving Russian lab inadvertently fired and sent the station into a spin. The four astronauts took refuge in their docked SpaceX capsule, ready to depart hastily if necessary.

Among the excited milestones: four spacewalks to boost the station’s solar power, a film-making trip by a Russian film crew, and the first space crop of chile peppers. His 200-day mission began last April.

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The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. NWN is solely responsible for all content.

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