Axiom Mission 3: Astronauts in SpaceX Dragon spacecraft set to return on Earth with ocean splashdown

SpaceX Crew Dragon has bolstered US capabilities by employing parachutes for their descent, either touchdown on land or splashdown in the ocean.

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Courtesy: Axiom

New Delhi: The Axiom Mission 3 astronauts are poised to return to Earth with an ocean splashdown scheduled for 9th February 2024. The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, transporting the four private astronauts, has successfully undocked from the Harmony module of the International Space Station (ISS) after facing delays due to unfavourable weather conditions.

Undocking from ISS

Michael López-Alegría, Walter Villadei, Marcus Wandt, and Alper Gezeravci, the quartet of private astronauts partaking in Axiom Mission 3, bid farewell to the ISS as their spacecraft detached from the space-facing port on the Harmony module. Slowly manoeuvring away from the orbital laboratory over the Pacific Ocean west of Ecuador, the SpaceX Dragon is now on a descent trajectory set to culminate in an ocean splashdown off the coast of Florida.

Return details

The anticipated splashdown is scheduled for 9th February 2024 at 8:30 hours EST or 19:00 hours IST. Alongside the astronauts, the Dragon will carry approximately 250 kilograms of used equipment and science experiments back to Earth. Axiom Space, overseeing the mission, marks the third private endeavour to the ISS facilitated by NASA.

Extended stay

Originally slated for a 14-day mission, adverse weather conditions necessitated a delay in the return flight, extending the astronauts' stay by four days. During their extended tenure aboard the ISS, the astronauts conducted an array of experiments and engaged in over 50 outreach activities.

The process of closing the hatch for departure was meticulously executed, spanning over two hours. Post-splashdown, recovery teams will swiftly move in to retrieve both the astronauts and the hardware.

Spacecraft returns

The return of spacecraft to Earth is a routine occurrence in space exploration. Historically, the US Space Shuttles pioneered reusability in spacecraft, facilitating regular trips to and from the ISS. The development of the SpaceX Crew Dragon has further bolstered US capabilities, reducing reliance on Russian Soyuz launches. Both Soyuz and Dragon spacecraft employ parachutes for their descent, either touchdown on land or splashdown in the ocean.

China's Shenzhou spacecraft fulfils similar roles, transporting Chinese astronauts to and from the Tiangong Space Station, the nation's sole orbital platform.