SpaceX’s Crew-3 astronaut mission is headed for Earth.
Crew-3 Continue capsule, called Endurance, decoupled from the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday (May 5) at 1:20 am EDT (0520 GMT), ending the mission’s six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory.
Endurance and its four passengers: NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and Raja Chari and Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency – they have a space trip of approximately 24 hours ahead of them for the trip to Earth. They are scheduled to splash down off the coast of Florida on Friday (May 6) at 12:43 am EDT (0443 GMT). You can watch his return home on Space.com when it happens.
In pictures: SpaceX Crew-3 astronaut launch for NASA
spacex launched Crew-3 astronauts on a Falcon 9 rocket on November 11, and Endurance arrived at the station that same day. The four astronauts had an eventful half year in orbit, working on hundreds of different scientific investigations and performing three spacewalks. (Marshburn and Barron ventured off the ISS on December 2, Barron and Chari did so on March 15, and Chari and Maurer spacewalked on March 22.)
Crew-3 astronauts also witnessed history last month with the arrival of Ax-1, the first fully private manned mission to the ISS. Ax-1, which was organized by the Houston company axiom space and flown by SpaceX, it sent four people to the orbiting lab for a two-week stay on April 9.
SpaceX Crew-4 Mission arrived at the ISS on April 27, just three days after the departure of the Ax-1. Crew 4 astronauts are expected to spend six months aboard the orbiting laboratory, the normal period for professional astronauts.
Crew-3 was the first spaceflight for Barron, Chari and Maurer and the third for Marshburn. Marshburn served as commander of the current Expedition 67 orbiting outpost; he officially handed over the reins of the ISS to Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev during a change of command ceremony Wednesday afternoon (May 4)
As its name suggests, Crew-3 is the third operational astronaut mission SpaceX has flown to the ISS for NASA. Boeing has a similar contract with NASA, which it intends to fulfill using its CST-100 starliner capsule.
Starliner is preparing for a crucial uncrewed test flight to the orbiting laboratory, which is release scheduled for May 19. If all goes well with that mission, known as Orbital Flight Test 2, it’s likely the capsule could start carrying astronauts in the near future.
Mike Wall is the author of “out there(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; Illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @migueldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacepointcom or in Facebook.