Two NASA astronauts, a Japanese astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut bid farewell to their seven fellow space station crew mates overnight Friday, strapped into their Crew Dragon capsule and embarked on a fiery Saturday night dive into the Gulf of Mexico to seal their 157th day. a task.
“Before we started, our flight director referred to Expedition 68 as ‘Iron Man,’” pilot Josh Casada said last week. “And that was before the universe started throwing curveballs our way, and then it got really crazy.
“While we’ve been here, we’ve done six spacewalks, installed two solar arrays, built the infrastructure for two more solar arrays, and fixed an old broken array. We’ve had five cargo vehicles (visit) along with all the science and hardware that (support) Hundreds of experiments and thousands of researchers around the planet.
He added, “We just want to say thank you, and hopefully we’re proud. If we don’t, don’t tell us until we get home!”
With Commander Nicole Mann and Kasada showing off the computer screens in the cockpit, and flanked by Koichi Wakata and astronaut Anna Kikina, Crew-5 Dragon exited the International Space Station’s forward port at 2:20 a.m. EST to begin its 19-hour journey for its landing. The Gulf of Mexico near Tampa.
They left in orbit their Expedition 68 colleagues, consisting of Crew 6 Commander Stephen Bowen, Pilot Woody Hoburgh, Astronaut Andrey Fedyaev and Emirati Astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, along with Soyuz MS22/23 crew Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petlin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio.
Bowen and his Crew-6 colleagues arrived at the lab on March 3 to replace Mann, Cassada, Wakata, and Kikina. Launched last September, Prokopyev and his Soyuz crewmates are spending a year aboard the station in the wake of a micrometeor impact that disables their ship, launching a replacement spacecraft.
As Mann and her cohorts turned away from the station, Rubio congratulated them on a “fantastic sunset departure. You guys look great. Great job here, we’ll miss you. Good luck.”
A few moments later, Mann, a Marine colonel and former F/A-18 carrier pilot, thanked NASA and SpaceX for their support, saying, “I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be part of such an amazing team.”
“And to the crew aboard the International Space Station, you got it, make us proud, and we will carry on your mission. And to our friends and family, thank you for following us and being a part of our mission. It was a privilege to add to the legacy.” It concluded with the Marine Corps motto: “Semper Fidelis”.
Flying through space at 84 football fields per second — 17,100 miles per hour — Crew Dragon’s braking missiles are programmed to fire for 11 minutes, 21 seconds starting at 8:11 p.m. Just enough to drop the far side of the orbit into the lower atmosphere.
Twenty-eight minutes later, Crew Dragon was expected to re-enter the clear atmosphere, its heat shield withstanding temperatures above 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit as the ship rapidly slowed in a fireball of atmospheric friction.
The capsule’s main parachutes were expected to open for the last three and a half minutes of flight before collapsing at 9:02 p.m.
SpaceX crews were stationed nearby to inspect and secure the spacecraft and transport it aboard a company rescue ship. Once on deck, the hatch would be opened and the crew would be assisted one by one and placed on stretchers to ease their readjustment to gravity after more than five months in weightlessness.
From the rescue ship, they will be whisked ashore by helicopter and then helped aboard a NASA jet on the journey back to Johnson Space Center in Houston for a debriefing and reunion of family and friends.
During their 157-day mission, the two Crew-5s will have spent 157 days within 10 hours of the planet, covering 2,512 orbits and 66.6 million miles since liftoff on Oct. 5.