A team of astronauts safely splashed down off the Florida coast late Monday, setting the stage for the next NASA and SpaceX Kennedy Space Center will launch crew this week.

Crew-2 astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide, and Thomas Pesquet descended into serene waters south of Pensacola, Florida, at 10:33 p.m. ET. This concluded an eight hour journey to the International Space Station. Crew Dragon, the team’s capsule for the Crew Dragon program was then lifted into the Gulf of Mexico to be transferred onto a SpaceX vessel. Crew-2 returned to the mainland by helicopters.

Time taken to complete the mission: Just hours short of 200 days from April’s launch at KSC.

Kimbrough, the mission commander, said after splashdown that it was “great to be back on planet Earth”. NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAEA) are all grateful. This was an honor.

Kimbrough stated, “To our family: We look forward to seeing your soon.”

McArthur and Kimbrough are NASA astronauts. Crew-2 was joined by Hoshide on behalf Japan. Pesquet represented ESA, France and his country of origin. After medical checkouts on the ship and a brief helicopter ride, they flew back to their home base at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

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Crew-3 will be next. It was originally scheduled for launch on Halloween, but it has been delayed by severe weather conditions and a medical issue that one of its crew members had. After splashdown has been completed, teams now focus on launching NASA astronauts Kayla Barbon, Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn and ESA’s Matthias Maurer by Wednesday at 9:03 p.m.

Conditions look good for Wednesday night: 80% “go” for launch conditions and “low-risk” for weather along the trajectory, according to the Space Force. Crew Dragon, Falcon 9, and Falcon 9 will launch towards the northeast.

What remains to be seen is if teams can be ready — it’s not entirely clear if recovery crews on-hand Monday night would be needed for Wednesday’s launch attempt. Crew Dragon has the ability to abort launches and rescue from failing rockets. Sea recovery teams must be ready in case Crew-3 crashes into the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX’s fourth successful crewed flight, and third overall for NASA when it includes privately-purchased flights, was Monday’s splashdown. Crew-3 will be the fifth crewed mission for SpaceX. However, during the six month stay at the ISS, it is likely that the company will launch at least one additional fully commercial mission using private astronauts.

Commercial Crew is a NASA program that selects astronauts from the private sector. It was created to replace the space station. Starliner is currently unable to conduct a second, uncrewed test flight because of software and hardware issues. It will launch another mission in 2022.

Follow Emre Kelly on Twitter @EmreKelly

Source: USAToday.com

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