CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The astronauts of SpaceX's Crew-2 mission are scheduled to leave the International Space Station on Monday afternoon (Nov. 8), and you can watch the action live online.
After spending just shy of 200 days in space, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, along with Akihiko Hoshide of Japan and the European Space Agency's (ESA) Thomas Pesquet, will say goodbye to their crewmates on the orbital outpost Sunday and board their Crew Dragon capsule, named Endeavour, for the trip back to Earth. Splashdown set for Monday night at 10:33 p.m. EST (0333 GMT).
You can watch it all live here and on the Space.com homepage, courtesy of NASA TV. Coverage will begin at 11:45 a.m. EST (1645 GMT) Monday, drop off after hatch closure, and then pick up again at 1:45 p.m. EST (1845 GMT) for departure. Coverage will be continuous from then until splashdown, NASA officials said.
Live updates: SpaceX's Crew-2 and Crew-3 astronaut missions
The hatches between Endeavour and the station are scheduled to close at 12:40 p.m. EST (1740 GMT) on Sunday, with undocking following at 2:05 p.m. EST (1905 GMT). The capsule will splash down off the coast of Florida early Monday evening (Nov. 8), if all goes according to plan.
This timeline is still tentative, however. NASA and SpaceX officials said that the weather remains a big factor in when the crew can come home, with the final "go/no go" call happening only a few hours before Endeavour is scheduled to undock. If the weather is too poor at all of the seven potential splashdown sites, mission team members will target a backup window on Monday for both undocking and splashdown.
"We'll keep crossing our fingers there on the weather," Sarah Walker, SpaceX's director of Dragon mission management, told reporters during a news briefing on Saturday (Nov. 6). NASA and SpaceX plan to bring Endeavour down in the Gulf of Mexico, rather than in the Atlantic Ocean, Walker added.
According to Walker, surface wind speeds at the candidate splashdown sites are currently slightly above the threshold that allows crews to land safely. Teams are proceeding toward undocking at 12:04 p.m. EST (1704 GMT) on Sunday but will reassess everything early Sunday morning. At that time, if the winds have died down enough that the crew can land safely, the teams will proceed as planned. If not, they will target the backup attempt for undocking on Monday.
The Crew-2 astronauts had been scheduled to do a fly-around maneuver after undocking, in which they circle the space station in the Dragon capsule and take photos. This activity was designed to allow crews and folks on the ground to inspect the aging space station's exterior and see if there are any areas that need attention.
"This is a procedure that we used to do with the space shuttle back in the day," Pesquet told reporters on Friday afternoon (Nov. 5) during a media briefing. "The reason is because we don't have that many opportunities to see the station from outside."
Pesquet added that there are cameras mounted on the station's exterior, but they're limited in number and scope, so a flyaround would allow the crew to photograph different targets such as docking ports and other exterior structures that they might not be able to see otherwise.
Unfortunately, due to weather concerns, NASA officials said during Saturday's briefing that this maneuver won't happen if Endeavour does indeed depart on Sunday. This decision gives the teams the best possible chance to target a safe landing opportunity for the crew. If the departure gets pushed to Monday, the teams will reassess whether or not to perform a flyaround on that day, NASA officials said.
If the Crew-2 astronauts do depart Sunday and splash down Monday, SpaceX will be able to support its next astronaut launch to the station, that of the Crew-3 mission, as early as Wednesday evening (Nov. 10).
Currently, NASA and SpaceX are targeting a Wednesday liftoff at 9:03 p.m. EST (0203 GMT on Thursday, Nov. 11) for Crew-3, which will send NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron and ESA's Matthias Maurer to the orbital outpost for six months.
If Crew-3 does launch Wednesday night as planned, it will arrive at the space station less than 24 hours later, around 7:10 p.m. EST on Thursday (1210 GMT on Nov. 12).
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include NASA's new undocking and splashdown times for Crew-2 after a weather delay.