NASA announced, Thursday, that French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and three other astronauts may leave the International Space Station on Sunday, but the timing is still very uncertain, especially due to weather conditions.
The four astronauts on the Crew-2 mission are scheduled to return to Earth this month after spending about six months on the International Space Station.
They usually have to wait for four more astronauts, the three Americans and one German from Crew-3, to get to the station.
NASA said in a statement that the take-off of their rocket, which has been delayed several times and which was postponed this weekend, was again called off “due to adverse weather conditions.”
The result: The space agency is now considering returning Crew-2 “before launching” Crew-3.
The “first possible chance” to unravel the capsule that will bring Crew-2 back to Earth, including the French, is 1:05 p.m. Florida time (6:05 p.m. GMT, 7:05 p.m. in France).
NASA said a return opportunity is possible on Monday, without giving a specific timetable.
Once separated from the International Space Station, the capsule will begin a flight of several hours, the duration of which can vary greatly depending on the path, and then land off Florida.
For a Crew-3 liftoff, the closest launch opportunity is 9:51 p.m. local time on Monday (02:51 GMT Tuesday), but only if NASA doesn’t return Crew 2 on Sunday or Monday.
The Crew-3 is set to take off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the astronauts have been in quarantine for days.
“Teams will make their final decision on whether to prioritize a Crew-3 launch or the return of Crew-2 in the coming days, based on whether conditions are likely to exist,” NASA said.
These two missions are performed by NASA in cooperation with SpaceX which now provides regular missions to the International Space Station from American soil.
“These are complex decisions that change from day to day,” Steve Stitch, NASA’s commercial program manager, said in the statement. “The weather in November can be especially difficult.”
During an exchange with President Emmanuel Macron Thursday morning, Thomas Pesquet spoke about the uncertainty surrounding his return.
“The last days are a little special,” he said. “We still have work to do, but our full to-do list, we’re done with it, and we’re ready to go back.”
“In a way, it’s almost a blessing,” he added. “These few days, for me, I’m trying to get the most out of it, it’s a bit like an airlock before going back to Earth.”
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