In the afternoon, Behnken and Hurley are expected to be able to board their spacecraft Crew Dragon, called Dragon Endeavor, which has been docked at the space station since the astronauts arrived in May. If the weather forecast seems acceptable, the capsule will leave the space station around 7:30 p.m. ET and begin the 7-hour hike to a splash off the Florida coast. If the Crew Dragon is released tonight, it is expected to arrive at its water landing at 14:42 Sunday ET.
The most important question is whether time will hold.
NASA and SpaceX have been on the lookout for Hurricane Isaiah, which is expected to approach the east coast of Florida this weekend.
That’s why NASA hopes the crew’s Dragon can land in the Gulf of Mexico, on the west coast of Florida, where forecasters expect quieter waters.
A NASA spokesman said Friday that officials are currently aiming to land the capsule near Panama City, one of four potential Gulf explosion sites that were pre-selected by NASA and SpaceX.
Officials will remain on the lookout for the release of Dragon Endeavor tonight. If all goes well, Hurley and Behnken will stop at Crew Dragon. Immediately after disengaging at 19:32 pm ET, the Crew Dragon’s engines will light up twice in succession to move the capsule away from the space station.
Then, Dragon Endeavor will slowly descend from the ISS, which orbits about 250 kilometers above Earth with brief engine burns to lower its altitude overnight. Dragon Crew maneuvers will be executed by on-board computers and Behnken and Hurley will have food and water in the vehicle. They will also have the opportunity to sleep before ironing.
On Sunday afternoon, the Dragon of the crew will orbit just above the thick halo of atmosphere that surrounds the Earth. The vehicle will restart the engine again as it circulates in the air and travels at 17,500 miles per hour. Rapid air compression and friction between the air and the spacecraft will heat the outer part of the spacecraft to about 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, a dangerous part of the trip. But a thick heat shield will keep Behnken and Hurley inside.
The capsule will then deploy a series of parachutes to delay its descent. According to a NASA spokesman, it should travel less than 20 kilometers per hour.