Washington | After six months in orbit, Frenchman Thomas Pesquet and three other astronauts are scheduled to leave the International Space Station on Monday and begin their return to Earth aboard the SpaceX spacecraft that is set to land off Florida.
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The 43-year-old astronaut spent about 200 days in orbit on his second space mission. He arrived aboard the International Space Station with his colleagues on April 24.
“Proud to represent France again in space!” , who tweeted a few hours before his departure, the one who, through his abundant posts on social networks, gave millions of people a taste of life without weight.
He said, “Next time, the moon?” “Finally, we have back to Earth to ensure first.”
Thomas Pesquet returns with the other members of Mission Crew-2 – Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide, Americans Shane Kimbrae and Megan MacArthur. On board the Elon Musk company’s ship is also 240 kg of scientific and experimental equipment, which the four cosmonauts were examining on board this flying laboratory.
The journey to Earth will take place in several stages:
The Dragon capsule is scheduled to separate from the International Space Station at 19:05 GMT.
It will then begin a multi-hour flight, which will begin with an unusual maneuver: it will tour the space station in order to photograph it, thus providing invaluable information to NASA teams on their external equipment.
The ship will then descend spectacularly, slowed by atmospheric re-entry and then by massive parachutes, before landing in Florida, at 03:33 GMT Tuesday, or at dawn in France.
The landing, which promises to be intense, is a first for the French astronaut. During his previous assignment in 2016-2017, he landed in the Kazakh steppes with a Russian Soyuz.
Once the capsule “hit” the surface of the sea (“splashdown” in English), it will float, and the crew will be retrieved as quickly as possible by ships stationed nearby.
A helicopter will bring the astronauts back to land, and from there they will board a plane to NASA’s Space Center in Houston, Texas. Thomas Pesquet will undergo a quick medical examination there before traveling to Cologne, Germany, where the European Astronaut Center is located.
For three weeks, it will then undergo a set of scientific tests, aimed at monitoring the effect of a long stay in orbit on the human body. This will not prevent him from seeing his relatives.
Then the astronaut will finally take a little vacation.
Crew-2 is the second regular mission that SpaceX has undertaken on behalf of NASA. The space agency was allowed to resume flights from US soil, after the space shuttles closed in 2011.
Its crew returned to Earth before their replacements arrived aboard the International Space Station, four Crew-3 astronauts, whose lift-off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was delayed several times, notably due to the weather report.
It will finally take place on Wednesday at 9:03 p.m. local time (02:03 GMT Thursday) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
In the meantime, the space station will not be uninhabited: two Russians and an American will remain on board.