Crew-5 astronauts will return to Earth on the evening of Saturday, March 11, after spending the last five months aboard the International Space Station. Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada of NASA, Koichi Wakata of JAXA, and Anna Kikina of Roscosmos prepare to undock their Crew Dragon, C210 Endurance, early Saturday at 2:20 AM EST (07:20 UTC).
sometimes Endurance undocked from the Station’s PMA-2 forward docking port Harmony node module, the spacecraft retreats and gradually moves away from the Station. The crew will prepare for re-entry while a final splashdown site decision is made based on weather forecasts and sea states, with the splashdown currently scheduled for Saturday at 9:02 PM EST (02:02 UTC Sunday, March 12).
Last week, Crew-5 astronauts were conducting direct handover activities to help Crew-6 astronauts settle into life aboard the Station. In a typical handover, the outgoing crew will pack their spacecraft with cargo, conduct refresher training for their splashdown, and collect any final biological samples from themselves for medical study.
Since docking at the Station on Oct. 6, 2022, Crew-5 members conducted approximately 200 science experiments and technology demonstrations. These include experiments with heart muscle cells derived from stem cells, an experiment to study how liquids move in a container in simulated moon gravity, the investigation of Veg-05 to plant of dwarf tomatoes, and the Sphere Camera-1 to study the performance of an ultra-high resolution camera in a microgravity environment, among many others.
Crew-5 member Anna Kikina, an engineer, became the first Russian cosmonaut to fly aboard an American spacecraft since Nikolai Budarin flew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 2002 as a crewmember of STS-113. Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, a pilot and structural engineer, took part in his first spacewalk as part of his long spaceflight career. Josh Cassada, a physicist and test pilot, helped install the iROSA array on the ISS during three EVAs in late 2022.
During the direct transfer from Crew-5 to Crew-6, there were 11 crew members aboard the Station, including three on the Chinese Tiangong space station, for a total of 14 people in orbit. After Crew-5 leaves the Station, the Crew-6 astronauts and the Soyuz MS-22/23 crew will be left on board, with the Soyuz crew now spending almost a year on the ISS due to the MS-22 coolant leak.
There are seven splashdown sites off the coast of Florida designated as recovery zones for Crew (and Cargo) Dragon spacecraft, in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The primary and secondary splashdown zones are agreed upon approximately two weeks prior to departure from the ISS.
Available sites are off the coast of Pensacola, Panama City, Tallahassee, Tampa, Jacksonville, Daytona, and north of Cape Canaveral.
Crew-5 members conducted a farewell aboard the ISS on Wednesday, March 8, ahead of their first scheduled ride to Endurance and undocking from the Station. At the same time, NASA is closely monitoring the weather for the upcoming splashdown.
Weather requirements for Crew Dragon splashdowns are as follows: no lightning within 10 miles, waves no greater than seven degrees slope, wind speed no greater than 12 miles per hour, less with a 25 percent chance of precipitation, and visibility of at least one half mile during the day or one mile at night. Crew-5’s return to Earth was pushed back due to these requirements not being met on Friday.
SpaceX’s recovery ship Megan is conducting crew recovery rehearsals while off Cape Canaveral, while the sister ship Shannon sailed to support recovery operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Megannamed after astronaut Megan McArthur, and Shannonnamed after astronaut Shannon Walker, was used on other Crew and Cargo Dragon missions to retrieve spacecraft and crew.
With the Crew-5 splashdown expected later this week, the Dragon recovery ship Megan is at sea tonight to complete the usual pre-event rehearsals.
Helicopter teams are in place and one recently landed on Megan offshore.
Last 📸: https://t.co/icguJj64A8 pic.twitter.com/LSiVPZqWah
— Gav Cornwell (@SpaceOffshore) March 6, 2023
Megan and Shannon is equipped with a helipad for astronauts to be taken ashore, a medical facility for observation and assessment of the astronauts’ conditions, and radars to track the spacecraft. They also use a lifting frame to lift the spacecraft onto the aft deck, where the astronauts can be transported to the medical facility.
As the members of Crew-5 carried out a successful mission, the first female Crew Dragon commander discussed what she expects at a March 1 press event aboard the ISS. Nicole Mann, a combat veteran, test pilot, and the first Native American woman in space, said “I know for me personally, I’m really excited to feel the wind on my face, smell the grass in the air, and taste all the delicious foods on Earth.”
(Lead image: Crew Dragon Endurance docking with the ISS in October 2022. Credit: NASA)