Nasa’s Crew-3 astronauts set to return to Earth this week

While Nasa’s Crew-4 mission to the International Space Station finally got off the ground on 27 April after several delays, their predecessors from the Crew-3 mission now have a date for their return to Earth.

In a post to Twitter on Monday morning, Nasa’s head of human spaceflight Kathy Lueders said the space agency aims to have the Crew-3 astronauts undock from the ISS in their Crew Dragon spacecraft around pm EDT on Wednesday 4 May, with a splashdown off the Florida coast to follow on 5 May.

That schedule assumes the weather holds, however. The Crew-4 launch was delayed because the crew of Axiom-1, the first all-private mission to the ISS, were unable to return from the space station as scheduled due to rough weather off the Florida coast.

Crew-3 — Nasa astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, as well as European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer — have been on the ISS since November. With the arrival of fellow ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti as part of Crew-4, ESA now has two astronauts aboard the ISS for the first time since 2011.

Crew-3 and Crew-4 are the third and fourth missions of Nasa’s Commercial Crew program, which contracts with private space launch companies to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. All four missions so far have flown in SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft launched by SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.

But if a crucial orbital test flight on 19 May goes well, future crew missions might also fly in the Boeing Starliner spacecraft.

The four members of the Crew-4 mission, Nasa astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, and Jessica Watkins, along with Cristoforetti, will spend roughly six months aboard the ISS, returning to Earth sometime in the fall of 2022.

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