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The International Space Station |  Four astronauts on their way to Earth aboard the Crew Dragon capsule

The International Space Station | Four astronauts on their way to Earth aboard the Crew Dragon capsule

(Washington) Four astronauts, three Americans and one Japanese, left the International Space Station aboard SpaceX on Saturday, after more than 160 days in space should end with a landing of waters off Florida at midnight.

Lucy Aubourg
France Media

The Crew Dragon capsule separated from the International Space Station on schedule (8:35 p.m. Saturday on the eastern coast of the United States, 12:35 a.m. GMT Sunday).

Thank you for your hospitality. […] Michael Hopkins, one of the four astronauts, told those who remained on the station, “We will meet again on Earth.”

The return trip to Earth is expected to take approximately 6.5 hours.

The four astronauts are scheduled to land Sunday at 2:57 a.m. local time in the Gulf of Mexico. The planned landing site is located off Panama City, Florida, but other alternative sites have been identified as needed.

Photo AFP

Astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi are scheduled to land on Sunday at 2:57 am.

“We trained to retrieve crews day and night,” reassured Steve Stitch, NASA’s commercial aviation program director, who was interviewed shortly before leaving the capsule. “The boats have a lot of lighting” and we will have “moonlight,” he said, adding that the weather conditions were excellent at the moment, with the sea calm.

He said SpaceX could reach the capsule “about 10 minutes after it landed.”

The Americans, Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Japanese Soishi Noguchi last November were the first astronauts on a “operational” mission to be transported to the International Space Station by the Elon Musk space company, which was imposed as a primary partner of NASA.

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Two Americans actually made a round trip aboard the Dragon in 2020, during a two-month test mission aboard the station. It was the first flight to the International Space Station launched from the United States since the end of the space shuttles in 2011, and the first to be operated by a private company with astronauts on board.

This time it is the first regular mission brought back to Earth by SpaceX.

For the ultimate “start”, the astronauts are on board the same Dragon spacecraft, called “Resilience,” that took them into orbit, and which SpaceX then plans to reuse for other missions, after its revamp.

NASA said the Dragon also carries “scientific freezers filled with research samples” carried out in zero gravity.

The departure of this Crew-1 crew comes after its arrival on the International Space Station last week on a second regular mission by the American company (Crew-2), which includes French astronaut Thomas Pisquet, who had the stick. It has been passed in the last days.

“Pass quickly”

Shannon Walker handed command of the International Space Station to Astronaut Crew 2 on Tuesday in a symbolic ceremony. “I will cherish these moments forever,” she said on the occasion.

In total, Crew-1 will spend 168 days in space. “Time flies by, it has passed so fast,” Victor Glover said.

For his part, Michael Hopkins said: “We are all, as you can imagine, very excited about this landing on the water, for what will be allowed, ie, returning to our families.” “We are very happy with that job. I think we all can’t wait until we get home either.”

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They were initially scheduled to leave the International Space Station on Wednesday, then Friday, but had to be postponed each time due to bad weather forecast in the landing area.

NASA and SpaceX “are working closely with the US Coast Guard to establish a 10 nautical mile safety zone around the landing site to ensure the safety of the public” and those responsible for the going. Astronauts have recovered, the US Space Agency said in a statement.

During the astronauts’ return from the test mission in August 2020, the pleasure boats approached very close to where the capsule would land and had to be removed.

In addition to the four Crew-2 astronauts, another American astronaut and Rusan, who arrived on board the Soyuz rocket, they remain on the International Space Station. Before leaving Crew-1, the space station was inhabited by at least 11 people.