STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION
Faced with high winds in the Gulf of Mexico, NASA managers decided to pass up a Sunday undocking and Monday morning splashdown for four returning space station astronauts, opting instead to aim for a landing Monday night when better weather is expected.
Crew-2 commander Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japanese flier Akihiko Hoshide had planned to depart the International Space Station at 12 p.m. EST (1700 GMT) Sunday for a splashdown at 7:14 a.m. (1214 GMT) Monday.
But after an early morning weather assessment, undocking was moved back to 2:05 p.m. Monday, setting up splashdown at 10:33 p.m. (0333 GMT Tuesday) that night. While the preferred landing zone is in the Gulf of Mexico, mission managers will choose a primary and backup site after additional weather assessments.
“Mission teams decided to adjust the Sunday, Nov. 7, undocking following a planned weather review showing high winds unfavorable for recovery near the splashdown zone in the Gulf of Mexico,” NASA said in a blog post.
Kimbrough and his crewmates were launched from the Kennedy Space Center atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on April 23, kicking off only the third piloted flight of a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, the second operational mission. With splashdown Monday night, the astronauts will have logged 199 days and 16 hours off the planet.
With recovery teams standing by for Crew-2’s return, SpaceX engineers at the Kennedy Space Center are pressing ahead with preparations to launch four more station-bound astronauts Wednesday night.
Crew-3 commander Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer plan to blast off from historic pad 39A at the Florida spaceport at 9:03 p.m. EST (0203 GMT Thursday) Wednesday to kick off a 22-hour rendezvous with the space station. Docking is expected around 7:10 p.m. Thursday (0010 GMT Friday).
Chari and his crewmates originally planned to launch Oct. 31. That would have allowed a “direct handover” with Crew-2, giving the outgoing astronauts time to familiarize their replacements with the ins and outs of station operations.
But the Crew-3 launch was delayed by weather and then a minor medical issue with one of the astronauts. In the end, NASA opted to bring Crew-2 home first, in part because their Crew Dragon was nearing 210 days in space, the certified on-orbit maximum for the spacecraft.
Handover activities aboard the station now will be handled by astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who was launched to the outpost April 9 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. He and crewmate Pyotr Dubrov are working through a nearly year-long stay in space.