NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are tentatively scheduled to return to Earth inside SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon capsule on August 2nd. It’s the same Crew Dragon vehicle that launched the astronauts to space at the end of May — marking the first time a privately made spacecraft had carried people to orbit.
For now, NASA plans for the duo, currently on board the International Space Station, to board the Crew Dragon on August 1st. They’ll then be back on the ground sometime the next day, according to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, who noted that weather will be a major factor in the return date. The departure will cap off a two-month stay on the ISS for Behnken and Hurley. While in space, they’ve both been very busy, with Behnken conducting numerous spacewalks to swap out aging batteries on the outside of the International Space Station.
The crew’s return to Earth will also be the last major test of the Crew Dragon, proving whether the vehicle can get people to the ground safely. The capsule has a heat shield, designed to protect its passengers from the intense heat generated as the vehicle plunges through Earth’s atmosphere. The Crew Dragon also sports a suite of four parachutes that deploy once the capsule is closer to the ground. They’re meant to gently lower the vehicle into the Atlantic Ocean, where the spacecraft and its astronauts will then be picked up by a special SpaceX recovery vessel.
If all goes well, the splashdown will bring an end to the Crew Dragon’s first crewed test flight —called Demonstration Mission 2, or DM-2. The test mission will determine if the Crew Dragon is ready to start flying crews of astronauts regularly to and from the ISS. SpaceX’s next flight of the Crew Dragon is currently slated for mid-to-late September and will carry four astronauts to the station. But this return must go well first.