America’s most experienced spaceflier and her three private astronaut crew members undocked from the International Space Station on Tuesday after a nine-day commercial survey mission.
After bidding farewell to the station’s seven full-time residents, Crew Dragon commander Peggy Whitson, pilot John Shoffner, and Saudi astronauts Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi hovered in their SpaceX pod “Freedom,” closing the hatch and undocking at 11:11 a.m.: 5 a.m. EDT to begin a 12-hour flight back to Earth.
As the spacecraft slowly retreated, ISS astronaut Steve Bowen radioed Whitson and her crew farewell.
“It was a pleasure to have you on board,” he said. “We really appreciate all the hard work, and congratulations on an excellent mission. … We wish you calm seas and calm winds for your landing tonight. Take care. Fly safe.”
If all goes well, Whitson and Shoffner will monitor an automated 12-minute, 20-second deorbit rocket from 10:14 p.m., slowing the ship just enough to drop the other side of the runway into the atmosphere for a northwesterly direction. -southeast descent through the heart of America.
Splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico south of Panama City, Florida, is expected at 11:04 p.m. SpaceX recovery crews were positioned nearby to help the returning station fly out of the Crew Dragon for initial medical checks and a helicopter ride back to the mainland.
The aptly named Ax-2 mission marked the second visit to a commercial station chartered by Houston-based Axiom Space, which is designing a fully commercial laboratory complex to provide research capabilities in low Earth orbit following the International Space Station’s launch. end of the decade.
Since IWhitson and company have spent long hours conducting 20 research projects and participating in multiple STEM broadcasts for students across Saudi Arabia to promote interest in math and science.
Whitson, 63, is no stranger to grueling space timelines.
A retired astronaut and now director of human space flight for Axiom, she is the most accomplished spaceflier in the United States. Upon landing, she will have spent 675 days and five hours in space over four flights, moving from tenth to ninth on the list of the world’s most accomplished astronauts and cosmonauts.
In a short farewell ceremony on Monday, she fought back tears as she thanked the station’s full-time crew for their hospitality.
“These guys welcomed us on board and helped us a lot,” she said. “But they’ve also just been so courteous and friendly, which we all really appreciate. We felt at home while we were here. Thank you. And I’ll be back!”
Barnawi also got choked up saying, “Every story comes to an end. And this is just the beginning of a new era for our country and our region. So I want to thank everyone here who helped us.”
Concluded NASA Astronaut Frank Rubio: “Many tears of honest joy here as we’ve had a great team and a great week. So congratulations to the Axiom team. Your crew did a great job. Congratulations to SpaceX on a wonderful launch, and which we are sure will be a wonderful recovery.”
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