Four diaper-wearing astronauts splashed back down in Florida on Monday evening, at the end of a 200-day stay at the International Space Station.
NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, along with the European Space Agency’s Thomas Pesquet and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s astronaut Akihiko Hoshide separated from the ISS at 2:05pm ET, as scheduled, and landed back at 10:33pm ET off the Florida coast.
Fast boats were deployed to retrieve the four from their capsule, bobbing in the sea. The recovery team was awaiting three nautical miles away.
At 10:38pm the green light was given for the rescue crews to approach the capsule.
‘We were on the helipad watching the crew members streak through the atmosphere, and it looked like a meteor – it was truly incredible,’ said Leah Cheshier, a NASA spokesman.
‘We couldn’t ask for better conditions and things are moving really smoothly here and happening as planned.’
The Dragon capsule splashed down off the coast of Florida at 10:33pm on Monday, exactly as planned
Their return was initially set for Sunday afternoon, but high winds pushed the return for the Crew-2 team back one day.
The SpaceX capsule, named Endeavour, is without a bathroom, due to a faulty toilet design, and all four crew members are wearing diapers on the trip back to Earth.
However, the rescheduled mission cuts the trip from the station to Earth by 12 hours – it is only eight hours long, compared to 20 hours – due to the path from the ship to Earth, so the team will not have to sport the protective undergarments as long as previously expected.
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Four diaper-wearing astronauts undocked from the International Space Station on Monday and have embarked on their journey home following a 200-day stay in space. The capsule (pictured) is without a bathroom, due to a faulty toilet design, and all four crew members are wearing diapers on the return-trip
‘Bittersweet feeling to leave … a magical place in the sky that grants superpowers like floating and seeing [Earth] at a glance,’ Pesquet tweeted Monday morning.
‘It gives me hope that humans can achieve anything, with good intentions, when we want to.’
The hatches of Endeavour closed, with the astronauts inside, at 12:13pm ET on Monday and less than two hours later, the crew conducted a series of short burns to push away from the ISS.
Endeavour was perfectly on schedule as it parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico, off the Florida coast.
NASA’s Shane Kimbrough (2nd left) and Megan McArthur (2nd right), along with the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Thomas Pesquet (right) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide (left) are all wearing diapers for their return trip
These astronauts are the third crew launched into orbit under NASA’s fledgling public-private partnership with SpaceX, the rocket company formed in 2002 by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.
The returning team was designated ‘Crew 2’ because it marks the second operational space station team that NASA has launched aboard a SpaceX capsule since resuming human spaceflights from American soil last year.
Previously, there was a nine-year hiatus at the end of the U.S. space shuttle program in 2011.
Before leaving the space around the ISS, the four took a spin around the space station to take pictures.
NASA’s shuttles used to do it all the time before their retirement a decade ago to allow for a deeper look at the ISS’s aging structure and determine if maintenance is needed.
However, this was the first time SpaceX attempted a flyaround like this.
Less than 48 hours after Crew-2 leaves the ISS, the Crew-3 mission will launch from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 10.
Frictional heat generated as the capsule plunges through the atmosphere typically sends temperatures surrounding the outside of the vehicle soaring to 3,500 degree Fahrenheit.
Having Crew-2 come back to Earth before Crew-3 launches is referred to as an ‘indirect’ handover, according to NASA.
‘It’s been great to be part of your team,’ NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who remained aboard the station, told the Crew-2 astronauts as they departed. ‘Get home safely.’
‘We learned a lot from you and know you’re going to treat Crew-3 really well and let us know if we can do anything for you,’ Kimbrough radioed back. ‘Take care and fly safe.’
The American space agency prefers a direct handover, where Crew-3 arrives before Crew-2 leaves, allowing for an overlap on the station.
A direct handover was planned on October 31, but poor weather and a minor medical issue with a Crew-3 astronaut caused a delay.
The initial launch was set for Sunday afternoon, but high winds pushed the return back a day. Pictured is a shot taken by the astronauts on the SpaceX return capsule after they left the International Space Station
Astronaut Megan McArthur shared a post in her twitter account ahead of the crew’s return to Earth. They have spent 200 days on the International Space Station since launching to the ship in April
Pictured is a shot inside the SpaceX return capsule
The toilet issue started in September when the commode aboard the Inspiration4 mission, the first all-civilian mission in space, leaked and spilled urine underneath the floor of the capsule.
Engineers, however, did not notice the trouble until the crew – Jared Isaacman, Sian Proctor, Haley Arceneaux and Christopher Sembroski – returned from their three-day journey around the Earth.
The issue stemmed from a tube that had become unplugged, which was also found aboard the Endeavour capsule, which flew SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission to the ISS back in late April.
The crew investigated the return capsule docked to the ISS by looking under the panels with video cameras to provide the NASA and SpaceX teams with data to see if their toilet was anything like that of the Inspiration4 mission.
Pools of urine were spotted during the investigation.
Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, told reporters at an October 29 press conference after the investigation: ‘Our intent is to not use the system at all for the return leg home because of what we’ve seen with the fluids we are talking about.’
The rescheduled mission cuts the trip from the station to Earth by 12 hours – it is only eight hours long, compared to 20 hours – due to the path from the ship to Earth, so the team will not have to sport the protective undergarments as long as previously expected
The string of delays also pushed the Crew-3 mission until Wednesday, which will see NASDA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, along with ESA’s Matthias Maurer fly aboard the Dragon spacecraft to begin a six-month stay in orbit on the ISS
Pictured is a map showing the location of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida
However, diapers, or undergarments are commonly used by astronauts to relieve themselves in spacesuits for launches, landings and spacewalks.
The Crew-2 return capsule is scheduled to do a fly-around maneuver after undocking.
This entails them circling the space station in the Dragon capsule while taking photos of the ISS, which has been done since the deployment of the ship.
The string of delays also pushed the Crew-3 mission until Wednesday, which will see NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, along with the ESA’s Matthias Maurer, fly aboard the Dragon spacecraft to start a six-month stay on the ISS.
SPACEX CREW DRAGON CAPSULE MEASURES 20FT AND CAN CARRY 7 ASTRONAUTS AT A TIME
The March 2 test, the first launch of U.S. astronauts from U.S. soil in eight years, will inform the system design and operations (Artist’s impression)
The capsule measures about 20 feet tall by 12 feet in diameter, and will carry up to 7 astronauts at a time.
The Crew Dragon features an advanced emergency escape system (which was tested earlier this year) to swiftly carry astronauts to safety if something were to go wrong, experiencing about the same G-forces as a ride at Disneyland.
It also has an Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) that provides a comfortable and safe environment for crew members.
Crew Dragon’s displays will provide real-time information on the state of the spacecraft’s capabilities, showing everything from Dragon’s position in space, to possible destinations, to the environment on board.
Those CRS-2 Dragon missions will use ‘propulsive’ landings, where the capsule lands on a landing pad using its SuperDraco thrusters rather than splashing down in the ocean.
That will allow NASA faster access to the cargo returned by those spacecraft, and also build up experience for propulsive landings of crewed Dragon spacecraft.