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SpaceX astronauts returning from ISS will splash down in darkness

SpaceX will try to retrieve its crew capsule this week in the dark, throwing astronauts into the ocean under the cover of the night for the first time since Apollo 8 in 1968. SpaceX aims at the dawn of Sunday to return three NASA astronauts and one Japanese astronaut to Earth after strong winds prevented a pair of previous returns.

The quartet of astronauts aboard the Crew Dragon capsule is the second crew to fly SpaceX hardware to and from the ISS. The astronauts will leave the ISS on Saturday night and land 6.5 hours later, around 3 am, in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Panama City, Florida. Although this is the crew’s first return falling during darkness, SpaceX has returned cargo capsules overnight in the past.

As SpaceX has experience in returning and retrieving capsules under the cover of the night, NASA feels confident in recovering the astronauts without problems. NASA spokesman Rob Navias said that SpaceX has carried out several general tests and spent a lot of time performing night recoveries.

As to why the crew just doesn’t return a few hours later, when the sun rises, Navias says that the 3 am time interval offers the best time. Aboard the crew dragon capsule are Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi. The replacement crew for the departing astronauts arrived at the ISS last week in a different SpaceX capsule.

Before departure today, with the additional astronauts on board the ISS, it was at its greatest crew capacity in many years. The departure of the four astronauts also officially begins the next expedition.

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