Spice X: Will the astronauts return safely?

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The task is nearing completion: American astronauts Bob Banken and Doug Harley began their long journey back to Earth last night (Saturday), after two months on the International Space Station. This is a journey of more than a day, which begins with a farewell event for their friends at the space station, which will take place around four o’clock in the afternoon (Israel time). After the exciting parting, the two entered the Dragon Crew capsule around midnight (Israel time) and after preparations and various experimental stages, which will last about two hours, they finally disengaged from the International Space Station, and began the long flight to Earth.

The exact site where they will land has not yet been finally determined, and depends on many factors including the weather conditions, which is why the US Space Agency (NASA) and SpaceX crews have trained seven different sites off the coast of Florida, including Tampa and Cape Canberra. About 30 hours, but it may be shorter and eventually stand at about six hours, like most space flights so far, depending on the exact location where they will land.

SpaceX personnel are expected to wait at the landing points, in order to remove the capsule after it lands. Special teams of about 40 people, including experts from SpaceX and NASA, who work in several fields, along with medical personnel, are expected to wait on ships that will dock nearby. After landing in the water, an initial external inspection of the Dragon Crew will be performed, followed by – Some of the crew will take care of the capsule, and the rest will take care of the parachutes, which at this time are supposed to be in the ocean water.

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Doug Harley and Bob Banken (Photo: Reuters)

At the end of these tests, the capsule will be transferred to one of the ships, and will be taken to a stable place – in order to open it in an orderly manner and help Banken and Harley get out of it, since after space they are unable to stand on their own. The duration of the process in question depends on the state of the sea and the condition of the capsule, and is expected to last between 45 and 60 minutes. The astronauts are expected to undergo initial medical examinations on board (similar to those performed for astronauts returning to Israel on Russian Soyuz missiles), at the end of which they will return to shore and board a NASA plane that will take them to the control center in Houston, Texas.

As mentioned, SpaceX manufactures reusable missiles and launchers, and immediately after returning to shore – the capsule will be taken to a laboratory for a series of tests and data processing. The company’s technical teams will begin a lengthy process, which is expected to last about six weeks, during which they will collect data and test the spacecraft’s performance throughout all phases of the mission, in order to obtain final approval to perform operational missions to the International Space Station. At the end of the process, the company is expected to launch the first official mission – Crew 1 – featuring Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and NASA Shannon Walker, along with Japanese space agency Sochi Noguchi. The four are expected to spend about six months in space.

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