4 astronauts head home from space station after hurricane passes through Florida

4 astronauts head home from space station after hurricane passes through Florida
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Four astronauts concluded their six-month stay aboard the International Space Station on Sunday and are heading for a splashdown off the coast of Florida days after Hurricane Idalia ravaged parts of the state.

The astronauts, members of the Crew-6 mission run jointly by NASA and SpaceX, boarded their Crew Dragon capsule on Sunday and departed the space station at 7:05 a.m. ET. The crew is expected to spend one day aboard the 13-foot-wide vehicle as it maneuvers through Earth’s orbit and toward its target landing site.

The Crew Dragon capsule is expected to splashdown at 12:17 a.m. ET.

NASA said that it had been monitoring the impact of Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall Wednesday morning on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The storm pummeled northern Florida before tearing through southern Georgia and into the Carolinas.

The four astronauts headed for a splashdown include NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, as well as Sultan Alneyadi, the second astronaut from the United Arab Emirates to travel to space, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.

The group spent six months on board the orbiting laboratory after launching to the station in March. Over the past week, the Crew-6 astronauts have worked to welcome and hand over operations to the Crew-7 team members, who arrived at the space station on Sunday.

During their stint in space, the Crew-6 astronauts were slated to oversee more than 200 science and tech projects.

“We got a lot done during our mission,” Hoburg said during a remote news conference with the astronauts on August 23. “We had two visiting SpaceX cargo vehicles — the CRS-27 and 28 missions with lots of science on board. And we, as a crew, conducted a total of three spacewalks.”

During their stay, the Crew-6 astronauts also hosted the Axiom Mission 2 crew, a group of one former NASA astronaut and three paying customers that included an American businessman and two astronauts from Saudi Arabia. That flight was part of a plan to fly tourists and other paying customers regularly to the International Space Station as NASA has sought to increase the amount of commercial activity in low-Earth orbit.

“It’s been a big adventure and a lot of fun,” Hoburg added.

The group also recognized their colleague Frank Rubio, a NASA astronaut who traveled to the space station last September aboard a Russian Soyuz vehicle alongside two cosmonauts. Rubio has spent nearly 350 days on board the space station and is soon set to break the record for the longest time a US astronaut has spent in microgravity. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei set the current record of 355 days in 2022.

Rubio’s return trip had been slated for the spring. But the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that carried him and two Russian colleagues to the space station sprang a coolant leak late last year. Officials at Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, later deemed the spacecraft was not safe enough to carry the astronauts back home, then sent a replacement vehicle and extended the ongoing mission by six months.

“We’ve been up here for six months,” Hoburg said. “Frank thought when he flew to space he would be here for six months, and partway through his mission he found out that it was extended to a year. His leadership up here … has been incredible.”

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