A Crew Dragon spaceship undocked from the ISS (International Space Station) on April 24, transporting four private astronauts who stayed on the station for nearly twice as long as they had intended.
At 9:10 p.m. Eastern, the Crew Dragon spaceship Endeavour undocked from the station. The undocking creates a splashdown off the coast of Florida on April 25 at 1:06 p.m. Eastern. While SpaceX has a few options for landing places, NASA says the prime location is in the Atlantic Ocean, about off the coast of Jacksonville.
“Thanks again for all of your support during this incredible experience that we’ve had, even longer and much more exciting than we expected,” Michael López-Alegra, the Crew Dragon spacecraft commander, addressed space station controllers shortly after the spacecraft undocked.
The undocking completes Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission, which began on April 8 with a Falcon 9 launch from the Kennedy Space Center. The trip, which is the inaugural commercial astronaut mission to the ISS by a U.S. ship, is led by former NASA astronaut López-Alegra and includes three clients: Mark Pathy, Larry Connor, as well as Eytan Stibbe.
Endeavour docked at the International Space Station on 9th April for an 8-day stay. However, this spacecraft stayed at the station for more than 15 days, with bad weather at splashdown sites delaying its departure. Other than “marginally high winds” that prolonged the undocking from 23rd April to 24th April, neither Axiom Space nor NASA elaborated on the particular meteorological requirements that precluded a splashdown, such as winds or wave conditions.
The longer stay had no significant impact on station operations. “Axiom and NASA mission planning anticipated the prospect of additional stay on station for the private astronauts,” the agency wrote in a blog post on April 20. “There are sufficient supplies for all 11 members of the crew aboard the space station.”
It did, however, raise the question of whether it was going to cost Axiom as well as its private astronaut clients extra money. “The agreement between Axiom and NASA allowed for the chance of additional days,” Dakota Orlando Axiom spokesperson, told SpaceNews on April 24, although did not respond to inquiries regarding the deal’s terms.
The arrangement includes an “equitable balance” to compensate for delays, according to NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz, who spoke on April 24. “Knowing that ISS program objectives such as the recently completed Russian spacewalk or weather issues could lead to a delayed undock,” she explained, “NASA structured the deal with a strategy that does not demand reimbursement for further undock delays.”
The extra time spent at the station was not in vain. The 4 private astronauts had a “crammed research schedule,” according to Orlando, working up to 14 hours a day at times. “As a result of the delay, they’ve been able to work on these findings and outreach programs at a more relaxed pace, allowing them to take in more views of the blue planet.”