Orion Spreads its Wings

Inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in preparation for installation on the Artemis I spacecraft, technicians have extended one of the Artemis I solar array wings for inspection on Sept. 10, 2020, to confirm that it unfurled properly and all of the mechanisms functioned as expected. The solar array is one of four panels that will generate 11 kilowatts of power and span about 63 feet. The array is a component of Orion’s service module, which is provided by the European Space Agency and built by Airbus Defence and Space to supply Orion’s power, propulsion, air and water.Inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians have extended one of the Artemis I solar array wings on Sept. 10, 2020. Prior to installation on the Orion spacecraft, the team performed an inspection to confirm proper extension and to ensure all of the mechanisms functioned as expected. The pictured solar array is one of four panels that will generate 11 kilowatts of power and span about 63 feet. The array is a component of Orion’s service module, which is provided by the European Space Agency and built by Airbus Defence and Space to supply Orion’s power, propulsion, air and water.

The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I will test the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024.

Final Launch Abort System Motor Arrives for Artemis II Crewed Mission

The attitude control motor for the Artemis II mission arrives in the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 28, 2020.
The attitude control motor for the Artemis II mission arrives in the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 28, 2020. Photo credit NASA/Ben Smegelsky

The last of three motors required to assemble the Launch Abort System for NASA’s Artemis II mission–the first crewed mission of the Orion spacecraft–arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on August 28. The attitude control motor (ACM) was delivered by truck from Northrop Grumman’s manufacturing facility in Maryland, to the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) at Kennedy.

During launch of Orion atop the agency’s Space Launch System rocket, the LAS motors work together to separate the spacecraft from the rocket in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch. The LAS includes three motors – the launch abort motor, the jettison motor, and the attitude control motor—that once activated, will steer the spacecraft carrying the astronauts to safety. The launch abort and attitude control motors were manufactured by Northrop Grumman; the jettison motor was manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

The ACM operates to keep Orion’s crew module on a controlled flight path in the event it needs to jettison and steer away from the rocket. It then reorients the crew module for parachute deployment and landing. The motor consists of a solid propellant gas generator, with eight proportional valves equally spaced around the outside of the 32-inch diameter motor. Together, the valves can exert up to 7,000 pounds of steering force to the vehicle in any direction upon command from the crew module.

Inside the LASF, the motor will be placed on a special trailer for future integration with the rest of the LAS elements. It will remain in the LASF midbay, where the Artemis I LAS is being integrated with its designated crew and service module for its mission next year.

Artemis II is the first crewed flight in a series of increasingly complex missions to the Moon that will lay the foundation for exploration of Mars and beyond. Artemis II will confirm all of the Orion spacecraft’s systems operate as designed in the actual environment of deep space with astronauts aboard. As part of the Artemis program, NASA will send the first woman and next man to the Moon in 2024.

Preparations Continue for SpaceX First Operational Flight with Astronauts

Mission specialist Shannon Walker, left, pilot Victor Glover, Crew Dragon commander Michael Hopkins – all NASA astronauts – and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut and mission specialist Soichi Noguchi, right, will launch to the International Space Station on the agency’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission.
Mission specialist Shannon Walker, left, pilot Victor Glover, Crew Dragon commander Michael Hopkins – all NASA astronauts – and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut and mission specialist Soichi Noguchi, right, will launch to the International Space Station on the agency’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission. Photo credit: NASA/Norah Moran

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for the company’s first operational flight with astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program arrived in Florida Tuesday, Aug. 18. The upcoming flight, known as NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission, will be the first of regular rotational missions to the space station following completion of NASA certification.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida no earlier than Oct. 23, 2020. The spacecraft made its journey from the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne, California over the weekend and is now undergoing prelaunch processing in the company’s facility on nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Preparations are also underway for the mission’s Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX completed a successful static fire test of the rocket’s second stage at its facility in McGregor, Texas, also on Tuesday. The Falcon 9 first stage booster arrived at the launch site in Florida in July to begin its final launch preparations.

The Crew-1 mission will send Crew Dragon commander Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialist Shannon Walker, all of NASA, along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission specialist Soichi Noguchi to the orbiting laboratory for a six-month science mission.

Artemis I Launch Team Fires Up Fueling Simulation

The Artemis I launch team rehearses loading the SLS rocket with propellants on Aug. 18, 2020.
Inside the Launch Control Center’s Firing Room 1 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, members of the Artemis I launch team rehearse the procedures for fueling the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with super cold propellants, or cryogenics, on Aug. 18, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Chad Siwik

The launch team for Artemis I is back in the firing room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for more practice. The team conducted a simulation on the procedures for cryogenic loading, or fueling the Space Launch System rocket with super cold propellants. During simulations potential problems are introduced to the team to test the application of firing room tools, processes, and procedures.

The Exploration Ground Systems team of launch controllers who will oversee the countdown and liftoff of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft will be practicing the procedures several more times ahead of launch. Special protocols have been put in place to keep personnel safe and healthy, including limiting personnel in the firing room, using acrylic dividers and adjusting assigned seating for the cryo team.

NASA, SpaceX Targeting October for Next Astronaut Launch

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 crew members are seen seated in the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft during training. From left to right are NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi. Photo credit: SpaceX
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 crew members are seen seated in the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft during crew equipment interface training. From left to right are NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, mission specialist; Victor Glover, pilot; and Mike Hopkins, Crew Dragon commander; and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, mission specialist. Photo credit: SpaceX

NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Oct. 23 for the first operational flight with astronauts of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as a part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission will be the first of regular rotational missions to the space station following completion of NASA certification.

The mission will carry Crew Dragon commander Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialist Shannon Walker, all of NASA, along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission specialist Soichi Noguchi for a six-month science mission aboard the orbiting laboratory following launch from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Crew-1 will launch in late October to accommodate spacecraft traffic for the upcoming Soyuz crew rotation and best meet the needs of the International Space Station. Launch will follow the arrival of NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos aboard their Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft and the departure of NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner from the space station. The launch timeframe also allows for a crew handover with NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission next spring.

The Crew-1 mission is pending completion of data reviews and certification following NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight, which successfully launched NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station on May 30 and returned them safely home with a splashdown off the Florida coast in the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 2.  Demo-2 was the first crewed flight test of a commercially-owned and operated human space system.

NASA certification of SpaceX’s crew transportation system allows the agency to regularly fly astronauts to the space station, ending sole reliance on Russia for space station access.

For almost 20 years, humans have continuously lived and worked aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies that enable us to prepare for human exploration to the Moon and Mars.

NASA is enabling economic growth in low-Earth orbit to open access to space to more people, more science, and more companies than ever before.

Kennedy Engineers Play Major Role in Mars 2020 Mission Success

Mars 2020 Perseverance rover lift off
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020, at 7:50 a.m. EDT, carrying NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Tim Powers

When NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover roared off the pad aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 Thursday, July 30, at 7:50 a.m., there were a lot of energized engineers on the ground at Kennedy Space Center.

Following the successful launch, the Florida spaceport’s Director of Engineering, Shawn Quinn, offered praise to the team’s support of Kennedy’s Launch Services Program (LSP).

“Our LSP engineering team diligently worked through multiple milestones to achieve launch readiness,” Quinn said. “Every mission presents its own unique challenges, including Mars 2020. The engineering team’s response to these challenges was outstanding.”

The team supported critical reviews and tests, such as: the LSP pre-Flight Readiness Review (FRR) Risk Control Board, FRR Launch Management Coordination meeting, systems certification review, and mission dress rehearsal. Engineering technical experts worked through 247 engineering review summaries in support of the historic mission.

Quinn also recognized the Engineering’s Construction of Facilities (COF) team for its contributions to facility and infrastructure support.

“The real-time support to the Spaceport Integration and Services directorate in addressing operations and maintenance-related issues and concerns during processing was a critical piece to the success of the mission,” Quinn said.

The team performed facility repairs and upgrades — including replacing obsolete substations, switch gears, chillers, air ventilation and conditioning systems, facility electrical, lighting, and fire protection systems at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility Mission Operations Support Building, the Multi-Operation Support Building, the Radiothermalisotopic Generator Facility, and Hangar AE — all in support of this historic mission.

Perseverance is now on its way to seek signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples for possible return to Earth. Along with the rover is the Ingenuity helicopter, a technology demonstration that will be the first powered flight on Mars.The rover will arrive on the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021.

The mission addresses high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key astrobiology questions concerning the potential for life on Mars. It not only seeks signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also will search for signs of past microbial life.

Watch Today’s News Conference with NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 Astronauts

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, left, and Douglas Hurley are seen inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft onboard the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship shortly after having landed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, left, and Douglas Hurley are seen inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft onboard the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship shortly after having landed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA Television will broadcast a news conference with NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 crew today at 4:30 p.m. EDT from the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley wrapped up their historic mission to the International Space Station with a successful splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, Aug. 2.

Those following the briefing on social media may ask questions using the hashtag #AskNASA.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft is seen as it lands with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020. The Demo-2 test flight for NASA's Commercial Crew Program was the first to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station and return them safely to Earth onboard a commercially built and operated spacecraft. Behnken and Hurley returned after spending 64 days in space. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft lands with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The completion of Demo-2 and the review of the mission and spacecraft pave the way for NASA to certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system for regular flights carrying astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceX is readying the hardware for the first rotational mission, called Crew-1, later this year. This mission would occur after NASA certification, which is expected to take about six weeks.

The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station. This could allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration, including helping us prepare for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

More details about the mission and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program can be found in the press kit online and by following the commercial crew blog@commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

‘An Incredible Day’: Splashdown Concludes NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft is seen as it lands with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020. The Demo-2 test flight for NASA's Commercial Crew Program was the first to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station and return them safely to Earth onboard a commercially built and operated spacecraft. Behnken and Hurley returned after spending 64 days in space. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft is seen as it lands with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020. The Demo-2 test flight for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program was the first to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station and return them safely to Earth onboard a commercially built and operated spacecraft. Behnken and Hurley returned after spending 64 days in space. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley splashed down safely in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday afternoon aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Endeavour,” wrapping up a two-month, 27.1-million-mile mission to the International Space Station on the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission. Today’s splashdown at 2:48 p.m. EDT off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, marked the first time a commercially built and operated American crew spacecraft returned from the International Space Station.

Post-splashdown briefing participants, clockwise from top left: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer at SpaceX; Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi, NASA's SpaceX Crew-1 crew; International Space Station Program Manager Joel Montalbano; and Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich.
Post-splashdown briefing participants, clockwise from top left: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer at SpaceX; Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 crew; International Space Station Program Manager Joel Montalbano; and Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich.

After the successful splashdown, the capsule and crew were successfully recovered by SpaceX. The astronauts are on their way back to Houston, where they will be reunited with their families.

“It really is a great day; I’m almost speechless as to how well things went today with the deorbit, entry, landing, and recovery of Bob and Doug,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, during a post-splashdown briefing. “Coming into today, we had three flight objectives: to execute the deorbit and entry of the Dragon capsule, to demonstrate that we could successfully recover that capsule, and that we could also bring back cargo from space. I think we demonstrated all three of those things today. It was just an incredible day.”

Dragon Endeavour is lifted out of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and onto the SpaceX “GO Navigator” recovery vessel. Image credit: NASA TV

The Dragon Endeavour capsule was hoisted from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and onto the deck of the company’s recovery vessel, “GO Navigator.”

“I have to do a call out to the great SpaceX team; they did extraordinary work. This was an incredibly smooth mission,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer at SpaceX. “This was an extraordinary mission, an extraordinary day for NASA, for SpaceX, and frankly, for Americans and anyone interested in spaceflight.”

Behnken and Hurley arrived at the orbiting laboratory on May 31, following a successful launch on May 30 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, are pictured having just entered the International Space Station on May 31, 2020, shortly after arriving aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, are pictured having just entered the International Space Station on May 31, 2020, shortly after arriving aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA

“For 60-plus days, Bob and Doug, the SpaceX team, the Commercial Crew Program, and SpaceX vehicle were on board doing critical science for us,” said NASA’s International Space Station Program Manager Joel Montalbano. “Bob and Doug completed over 110 hours of science, utilization, research, and technology development work that will help this great laboratory that we have in low-Earth orbit and allow us to go to the Moon and to Mars with the Artemis program.”

These activities are a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which has been working with the U.S. aerospace industry to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil the International Space Station for the first time since 2011. This is SpaceX’s final test flight and is providing data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, splashdown and recovery operations.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, are pictured having just entered the International Space Station on May 31, 2020, shortly after arriving aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, are pictured having just entered the International Space Station on May 31, 2020, shortly after arriving aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA

Dragon Endeavour will be returned to the SpaceX “Dragon Lair” in Florida for inspection and processing. Teams will examine the data and performance of the spacecraft throughout the test flight to complete the certification of the system to fly operational missions for NASA’s Commercial Crew and International Space Station Programs. The certification process is expected to take about six weeks. Following successful certification, the first operational mission, Crew-1, will launch with Crew Dragon commander Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialist Shannon Walker – all of NASA – along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission specialist Soichi Noguchi. That launch is targeted for late September.

“On behalf of Crew-1 and our families, we want to say congratulations to Bob and Doug their families,” Hopkins said, with Walker, Glover and Noguchi beside him. “We’ve had an opportunity to witness the work and dedication it’s taken to pull off the Demo-2 mission, and it’s been truly impressive and inspiring.”

“As you can imagine, we’ve got big smiles on our faces from what we saw from the Demo-2 mission. I said this after the launch, and I’m going to say it again after watching splashdown: it did not seem like this was the first NASA-SpaceX mission with astronauts on board,” Hopkins added.

The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station. This could allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration, including helping us prepare for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

“We need to remember that this is just the beginning. Now is the time to capitalize on all the great programs that have recently been established, to include going sustainably to the Moon under a program we call Artemis,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We’re going to the Moon sustainably; we’re going to go with commercial partners, with international partners. We’re going to use the resources of the Moon to learn how to live and work on another world for long periods of time. We’re going to take all of that knowledge and we’re going to go to Mars.”

SpaceX Crew Dragon on the Path Home

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, undocks from the International Space Station on Aug. 1, 2020. Photo credit: NASA

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission passed a significant milestone this evening as the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station at 7:35 p.m. EDT after more than two months of docked operations in orbit. Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, traveling aboard the spacecraft they named “Endeavour,” will spend one more night in space before beginning their journey back to Earth on Sunday in the first return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft carrying astronauts from the space station.

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are seated inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on Aug. 1, 2020.
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are seated inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft prior to undocking from the International Space Station on Aug. 1, 2020. Photo credit: NASA

With the spacecraft on its path home, the astronauts will settle in for an eight-hour sleep period. While they’re asleep, a six-minute departure phasing burn at 1:48 a.m. EDT Sunday, Aug. 2 will set the Dragon Endeavour on the proper orbital path to a planned splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida.

The deorbit burn, which slows the spacecraft’s forward speed enough to begin its descent, is scheduled for 1:51 p.m. EDT on Sunday, with splashdown at 2:48 p.m. EDT. Teams continue to closely monitor Hurricane Isaias and evaluate impacts to the landing sites in the Gulf of Mexico along the Florida Panhandle. Teams have several weather decision milestones ahead of and after undocking to adjust the splashdown location and time based on the forecasted conditions for recovery.

Follow along with the return and recovery activities here on the blog and on NASA Television.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, are pictured having just entered the International Space Station on May 31, 2020, shortly after arriving aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, are pictured having just entered the International Space Station on May 31, 2020, shortly after arriving aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA

Behnken and Hurley arrived at the orbiting laboratory on May 31, following a successful launch on May 30 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During their 63 days aboard the station, Behnken and Hurley contributed more than 100 hours of time to supporting the orbiting laboratory’s investigations, participated in public engagement events, and supported four spacewalks with Behnken and Cassidy to install new batteries in the station’s power grid and upgrade other station hardware.

These activities are a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which has been working with the U.S. aerospace industry to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil the International Space Station for the first time since 2011. This is SpaceX’s final test flight and is providing data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, splashdown and recovery operations.

The test flight also is helping NASA certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system for regular flights carrying astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceX is readying the hardware for the first rotational mission, which would occur following NASA certification.

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2: Behnken and Hurley Look Forward to Return to Earth

NASA astronauts (from left) Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley and Chris Cassidy are the U.S. members of the Expedition 63 crew aboard the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA
NASA astronauts (from left) Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley and Chris Cassidy are the U.S. members of the Expedition 63 crew aboard the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are looking forward to their return to Earth following more than two months at the International Space Station during the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission. The crewmates discussed their upcoming SpaceX Crew Dragon departure and splashdown during a news conference alongside fellow NASA astronaut and current Expedition 63 commander Chris Cassidy on Friday, July 31, from the orbiting laboratory.

Behnken and Hurley are wrapping up a successful mission to the station with a sense of satisfaction.

“Just to be able to live and work aboard the space station – a facility that the three of us all helped to build during shuttle flights – and to be a crew member with Chris and Bob on a day-to-day basis, supporting station operations, supporting science, supporting maintenance, the four spacewalks that these guys did, the robotics that we did, was just an incredible experience,” Hurley said.

Weather permitting, undocking remains scheduled for approximately 7:34 p.m. EDT Saturday, Aug. 1, and splashdown at 2:42 p.m. EDT on Sunday. This will mark the first return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft carrying astronauts from the space station.

“As we get closer, we focus more and more on our preparations to be ready for the splashdown activities,” Behnken said. “We spent today working through the onboard training that will refamiliarize us with the splashdown activities, what our responsibilities will be, the things that we’ll monitor.”

Teams are keeping a watchful eye on Hurricane Isaias and will continue to evaluate impacts to weather around the Florida peninsula, including the potential splashdown sites in the Gulf of Mexico and along the state’s Atlantic coast. NASA and SpaceX will make a decision on a primary splashdown target approximately 6 hours before undocking Saturday.

“We’re watching [forecasts] closely, mostly to maintain awareness and see the trends, and understand what the timeline would be if our recovery out of the water, for example, was delayed a little bit. But we have confidence that the teams on the ground are of course watching that much more closely than we are,” Behnken said. “We don’t control the weather, and we know we can stay up here longer – there’s more chow, and I know the space station program has more work that we can do for the [principal investigators] and other folks who have sent science up to the space station.”

The Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying Hurley and Behnken lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30 and arrived at the space station the following day. The Demo-2 test flight is helping NASA certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system for regular flights carrying astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory. SpaceX is readying the hardware for the first rotational mission, which would follow NASA certification.

“It’s a simple math equation: There was one, and then there were three. We effectively tripled our ability to get work done, and with all three of us having been here before, in short order, we were running at full steam and getting as many science objectives completed as we could,” Cassidy said. “These last two months, it’s been fantastic to have buddies at the chow table to reflect on the day, think about tomorrow, and talk about world events and that sort of thing. I’ll definitely miss them when they head back.”

More details about the return can be found in the Top 10 Things to Know for NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 Return and the splashdown weather criteria fact sheet.