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SpaceX Crew Dragon is heading home, hopes to land Sunday

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are expected to land back on Earth on Sunday afternoon. The historic mission aboard the SpaceX Dragon Endeavor, which has been docked at the International Space Station since May, will mark the first manned launch and return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft. Dave Mosher, senior space correspondent with Business Insider joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are preparing to begin their return to earth from the International Space station this evening.

    Their historic mission aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule will mark the first manned launch and return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft.

    The Dragon Endeavor has been docked at the space station since May and is expected to splash down tomorrow afternoon.

    I spoke with Dave Mosher, senior space correspondent with Business Insider about the astronauts scheduled trip back home.

    Dave, there was a lot of excitement when the Dragon capsule from SpaceX took U.S. astronauts up into space. There's a little excitement on the way down because these capsules are supposed to splash down in the water like back in the old days. What's it gonna look like when this capsule re-enters Earth?

  • Dave Mosher:

    Well, what we're first going to see is an undocking procedure, which is this the Crew Dragon spaceship, moving away from the International Space Station. And then that starts a journey of anywhere from 6 to 30 hours before they actually land back on Earth.

    We're not going to see a lot of those stages after they leave the space station just because they're in space. But what's going to happen is the spaceship is going to get rid of this trunk, the cylindrical thing full of the solar panels and the fuel and all the stuff, and then it's going to start entering the atmosphere. And shortly after that, we're going to start getting telescopic views of the Crew Dragon coming back.

    It's gonna look like a red hot kind of white dot in the sky. And NASA is going to try to follow this all the way to the ground. They're going to deploy the parachutes. We're going to see those parachutes come out from ground cameras, cameras on boats and airplanes.

    And we're going to see the splashdown in the ocean and see a bunch of boats diverging on that that capsule to get those astronauts out of there before they puke their guts out and get them back to recovery boat, get them all checked out by some doctors and we're going to see a lot of that footage. And then we're gonna see them whisked away to land via helicopter from that recovery boat.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So there is a little concern now. Florida is bracing for hurricane Isaias. What does that do to the weather and the conditions and where the astronauts can land?

  • Dave Mosher:

    Yeah, this is a pretty stunning moment to try to perform a highly important experimental test mission in which you're proving that a brand new spaceship can safely return people to Earth, like take them up to space and take them back to Earth.

    This hurricane is generating some extremely strong winds, lightning, weather, clouds, all the stuff you don't want. But right now, they have several, as NASA says, out of these seven landing sites, three are on the Atlantic side and four on the Gulf Coast side, for this capsule to splashdown.

    Right now, hurricane is Isaias kind of looking to straight up the Atlantic side of Florida. So we're looking at a possible landing in the Gulf of Mexico at this point.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So how precise can they get on exactly where they want to land? And then how long does it take to get from space to that spot?

  • Dave Mosher:

    So the precision of the landing of this capsule is really good. We saw that with the demonstration one or demo one mission. They basically put it down right where the boat, the recovery boat was at.

    It is astonishing what a bunch of engineers and aerospace scientists can can figure out in terms of the physics and like the wind conditions that can really nail the landing and pull the boat right up to where the capsule's going to be, which is a good thing if you're coming back. You don't want to be in that capsule for too long because you're gonna really seasick going up and down on the waves.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So we're gonna be able to see this if they know exactly where it's going to land or we're going to see the capsule with the parachutes coming down and splashing down in the water?

  • Dave Mosher:

    NASA is scrambling basically all resources that it can. It's even called on the Department of Defense to have emergency recovery vessels available. They're going to have planes in the sky, boats in the water, you know, telescopes even to look for this capsule as it comes through the atmosphere.

    And it's not just for our viewing pleasure here. They are trying to get as much data as they can about this return, because the goal of this mission, the demonstration 2 or demo 2 mission, is to show that this capsule is safe to take people to and from space, not just any people, but civilians.

    Tom Cruise wants to go up in this with his director this space capsule, the Crew Dragon, and film a movie at the International Space Station. So they've got to show that this is really safe. And part of that is collecting as much data as they can.

    So they're going to be recording this out the wazoo. And we're going to be taking a really nice backseat armchair look at this, because they're going to stream a lot of that footage directly to NASA TV.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Dave Mosher, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Dave Mosher:

    My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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