The four members of SpaceX Crew-6 that have been orbiting the Earth on the International Space Station since March climbed back on board the Crew Dragon Endeavour to begin their trip home for a splashdown off the Florida coast.
The quartet of mission commander NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen, fellow NASA astronaut and pilot Woody Hoburg, mission specialists United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi and mission specialist Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev said their goodbyes to the Crew-7 replacements that arrived last Sunday to the station temporarily increasing the ISS population to 11.
All but Bowen, who flew three missions on three space shuttles, were making their first trip to space, and AlNeyadi became the fourth astronaut from an Arab nation to go to space.
“it’s been a trip of a lifetime,” AlNeyadi said during a call last week with Houston. “Every part of it was amazing. Our spacewalks, our experiments, our daily routine. The interaction with the students from all over the world.”
He said he’s been asked if he would fly with the same trio for a future trip to space.
“I always say 100% So I would definitely choose you guys to fly in the future again,” he said.
Hatch closing happened at 5:19 a.m. with the spacecraft undocking around 7:05 a.m. Sunday now faced with a little more than 17-hour trip home.
NASA and SpaceX are targeting a 12:17 a.m. landing early Monday of the coast of Jacksonville, one of seven preselected spots off the coast of Florida either in the Gulf of Mexico or in the Atlantic. Teams waited one more day than planned as what had been Hurricane Idalia made weather conditions in the Atlantic unfavorable.
The quartet each told media what they were most looking forward to once arriving home.
“I’m looking forward to the nice ocean air and peaceful calm seas. That will be really nice to get back to,” said Bowen
“I’m looking forward to a real shower,” said Hoburg
“Family and friends are the most important, and besides that, I would love a real hot cup of coffee,” said AlNeyadi.
“I think my dream is for good sleep,” said Fedyaev.
This marks the end of the fourth trip for Crew Dragon Endeavour, which was the capsule that brought up the first humans to the ISS in May 2020 on the Demo-2 mission. It has since flown the Crew-2 mission in 2021, Axiom-1 mission in 2022 and this flight that launched from Kennedy Space Center back on March 2.
SpaceX has four active Crew Dragon capsules and a fifth planned to come online in 2024. They have flown 42 humans to space on 11 flights. Crew Dragon Endurance remains docked to the ISS for Crew-7, which won’t be relieved for another six months. For now, the capsules are rated for five flights each with Endurance now on its third mission while Crew Dragons Resilience and Freedom have both completed two missions.
SpaceX and Boeing originally won the contracts under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program with the idea that both would have a working spacecraft up and running so they would each share taxi service duties to the station, but Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner has yet to make its first test flight to the station with crew. That flight won’t happen until at least March 2024, so for now SpaceX continues the rotational duties with Crew-8 planned for as early as February 2024.