After around six months on board the International Space Station (ISS), four astronauts are safely back on earth. A “Crew Dragon” capsule from the private space company SpaceX with US space travelers Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker as well as their Japanese colleague Soichi Noguchi landed on Sunday morning (CET) in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of the US state Florida announced NASA.
Braked by four parachutes, the capsule with the astronauts hit the water in the dark, shortly before three o’clock in the morning (local time). Ships then went to the site to pick up the crew. The capsule had undocked from the ISS during the night after the return flight to Earth had been postponed for a day due to bad weather. The so-called “Crew-1” docked at the ISS in November.
Start of “Crew-3” planned for October
The space station had recently become tight: In addition to the “Crew-1”, the cosmonauts Oleg Nowizki and Pyotr Dubrow as well as the NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei had been on board since the beginning of April, and last weekend four astronauts from the “Crew-2” arrived “in addition – the US astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur as well as their Japanese colleague Akihiko Hoshide and the French Thomas Pesquet.
“Crew-1” was the first to fly regularly to the ISS in the “Crew Dragon” after a manned test flight to the ISS last spring was successful. After a break of almost nine years, the test was the first in which astronauts returned to orbit from American soil – and the first time ever that they were promoted by a private space company. The start of the “Crew-3” is currently planned for October.
Flights from the USA
The last time astronauts flew to the ISS was in the summer of 2011 on the space shuttle “Atlantis”. Then the US space agency NASA mothballed its space shuttle fleet for cost reasons and has since been dependent on Russia for flights to the ISS. At around 80 million euros per flight in a Russian Soyuz capsule, that was not only expensive, but also scratched the ego.
NASA had actually already announced its own flights from the USA to the ISS for 2017 – but the project was postponed more and more in the wake of technical problems, financing difficulties and restructuring after Trump was elected president.