After several delays, SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission is back on the planet.
A SpaceX capsule carrying four astronauts left the International Space Station ( ISS ) for Earth on Monday after spending six months aboard the orbital outpost.
Since their arrival on April 24, the crew of two Americans, a French and a Japanese astronaut conducted hundreds of experiments and helped upgrade the station’s solar panels.
They boarded the SpaceX Dragon , nicknamed “Endeavor,” and undocked from the ISS at 2:05 p.m. EDT (7:05 p.m. GMT), NASA announced .
Endeavor will now tour the ISS for about an hour and a half to take pictures, in the first mission of its kind since the Russian Soyuz spacecraft carried out a similar maneuver in 2018.
The Dragon, which flies mainly autonomously, has a small circular window at the top of its front hatch through which astronauts can point their cameras.
The landing is scheduled for 10:33 PM (0333 GMT Tuesday) off the coast of Florida, marking the end of the “Crew-2” mission . The NASA is broadcasting live the mission.
“Proud to have represented France once again in space! Next stop, the Moon?” wrote on Twitter Thomas Pesquet, representing the European Space Agency (ESA).
His activities have included documenting the planet’s surface to record human-caused changes and natural events, growing Hatch chili peppers, and studying worms to better understand changes in human health in space.
Crew-2’s departure was delayed one day due to high winds. Bad weather and what NASA called a “minor medical problem” have also delayed the launch of the next group of astronauts, on the Crew-3 mission , which will now launch on Wednesday.
Until then, the ISS will be inhabited by just three astronauts: two Russians and one American.
SpaceX began providing astronauts with taxi service to the ISS in 2020, ending nine years of US dependence on Russian rockets for the journey that followed the end of the space shuttle program.
The crew will face one last challenge on their way home: they will have to wear diapers after a problem was detected in the capsule’s waste management system.
And they won’t have access to a bathroom from the time the gates close at 5:40 p.m. until after landing, for about 10 hours.
“Of course it is not optimal, but we are prepared to handle it,” NASA astronaut Megan McArthur said at the news conference.
“Space flight is full of small challenges, this is one more that we have encountered and that we have to deal with in our mission.”
The SpaceX tourist crew that traveled in September had a similar problem with the waste management system, which set off an alarm. Then NASA said a pipe had detached, sending urine into the capsule’s vent system instead of the storage tank.