SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon astronauts depart space station for return to Earth

CAPE CANAVERAL (Fla.) -- SpaceX's second long-duration mission to NASA's astronaut program is coming to an end today after a Crew Dragon capsule was removed from the International Space Station.
Crew Dragon Endeavour of the company, which carries the crew of SpaceX's Crew-2 mission astronauts, is returning to Earth in preparation for an expected splashdown off the coast of Florida tonight. The six-month mission to reach the International Space Station is now complete for the crew, which includes NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough (and Megan McArthur), Thomas Pesquet from Europe and Akihiko Hashide from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The hatches connecting Endeavour to the station were closed at 12:13 p.m. EDT (1713 GMT) Monday morning. At 2:05 p.m. ET (1905 GMT), the astronauts disembarked from the station. The Dragon spacecraft then performed a series short burns to return to the station. At 10:33 p.m. ET (0333 Nov.9 GMT), they will splash down in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida. NASA TV allows you to view it live on this page and the homepage.

SpaceX's Crew-2 mission splashdown: Live updates

Image 1 of 3 SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon Endeavour can be seen above a blue earth in a view taken from the International Space Station following undocking on November 8, 2021. (Image credit NASA TV. Image 2 of 3 This view shows the International Space Station's U.S. section after the Dragon capsule was removed from orbiting laboratory on Nov. 8, 2021. (Image credit NASA TV) Image 3 SpaceX's Crew-2 Dragon Endeavour walks away from the International Space Station following undocking on November 8, 2021. NASA TV image credit

As they left the station, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei told Crew-2 astronauts, "It's been great being part of your team." "Get home safely."

Kimbrough replied, "We learned a lot about you and know that you're going to treat Crew-3 very well. Let us know if you need anything." Take care and be safe.

Crew-3's launch was delayed Monday due to weather problems and minor medical issues involving one of the astronauts who will be spending the next six months in orbit.

Related: Crew-2 astronauts are not allowed to use SpaceX's Dragon toilet in space

Crew-2 astronauts successfully undocked and performed a flyaround maneuver. This was the first such maneuver since the Shuttle era. The crew will take photographs of the outside of the station during this maneuver which is expected to last approximately an hour and a quarter. These photos will allow teams to inspect areas of the station not normally visible from the orbital outpost's cameras. The maneuver will also test Dragon's navigation sensors.

View of SpaceX's Crew-2 Dragon spacecraft Endeavour, with the Earth in background. Endeavour flew around the International Space Station after undocking on November 8, 2021. NASA TV image credit

SpaceX's second crewed long-duration crewed flight, which launched in April on a Falcon 9 rocket, saw the Crew-2 astronaut team spend six months in space. Crew-3, the company's third mission to astronauts, was originally set to launch Oct. 31.

Crew-3 Dragon Endurance is still waiting for liftoff. NASA had to send their Crew-2 astronauts home after a series of delays. If all goes according to plan, the Crew-3 astronauts, NASA's Raja Chari and Tom Marshburn, Kayla Baron, and Germany's Matthias Maurer, will launch to the station on November 10. Liftoff is scheduled for 9:03 PM EST (0203 Nov. 11, GMT).

SpacX's Crew-3 astronauts arrived on October 26 in Florida and spent the following few days going through final launch procedures before climbing into their Dragon. The launch was delayed by bad weather and minor medical issues with one of the crew members.

Transferring flights

As they complete a six-month mission, the four astronauts from SpaceX and NASA's Crew-2 mission take a photo with their launch and entry suits. From left to right: Akihiko Hashide from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur and Thomas Pesquet from European Space Agency. (Image credit: ESA/Thomas Pesquet via Twitter

Crew Dragon capsules can only remain in orbit for approximately 220 days before returning to Earth. The craft's sensitive hardware can be bombarded constantly with radiation while attached at the orbital outpost. This can cause damage to more sensitive components such as solar arrays.

NASA and SpaceX decided to try to bring the Crew-2 astronauts home before they launched Crew-3. This would result in an indirect handover between the crews.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, a fellow astronaut, is still at station. He will help the Crew-3 astronauts, three of whom have never been in space before, get used to microgravity. This is something the Crew-2 astronauts would not have done if Crew-3 had launched before them.

Recovery efforts

Endeavor was 259 miles above Chile when Endeavor docked at the International Space Station. Crew's return flight to home will take approximately 8.5 hours. The Dragon spacecraft performs several carefully choreographed departure fires before it finishes its orbit burn.

Dragon will descend under parachutes and the cover of darkness. It will touch down in the Gulf of Mexico just south of Pensacola (Florida). NASA and SpaceX were anticipating perfect weather conditions with calm seas, light winds and ideal temperatures.

The capsule will splash down at 10:33 PM EST (0333 GMT Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2009). SpaceX's fast boats arrive about 10 minutes later. SpaceX's Dragon recovery ship will use its own onboard recovery systems in order to lift the Dragon from the water.

After the Dragon has been approached, the recovery team will open the hatch to extract the crew. The crew members will be examined by medical personnel after exiting the Dragon. They will then be taken back to Houston in a helicopter.

Editor's Note: NASA provides live coverage of SpaceX Crew-2 astronauts returning home to Earth. NASA TV allows you to view it live.