Crew-2 Returns to Earth After 200-Day Mission

Crew-2 splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on Monday after a 200-day mission on the International Space Station. This is the third crewed mission for SpaceX’s contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and fourth overall crewed mission counting Inspiration4.

Crew-2 had originally been planned to overlap with Crew-3 for a handover period of a few days. However, Crew-3 was delayed due to bad weather and an undisclosed illness in one of the crew members.

Before returning home, Crew-2 flew once around the space station, taking pictures, in a first for SpaceX. NASA’s Space Shuttle used to conduct a similar maneuver when completing visits to the International Space Station before the shuttle’s retirement in 2011.

Crew-2 had to put up with a malfunctioning toilet on the way home, which meant that they had to make use of specialized garments during the eight-hour ride home. Inspiration4 had similarly experienced issues with its toilet, though they were able to fix it in flight. SpaceX says it has a fix for the issue, though the Crew-2 Crew Dragon had to return home before they could work on it.

Crew-2 also had an issue with one of the parachutes used to slow the Crew Dragon enough for a safe splashdown. However, the other parachutes did the job adequately and the crew seemed to be in good spirits when they emerged from their spacecraft on board the recovery vehicle.

Challenges during Crew-2’s stay on the International Space Station included faulty thrusters on a newly added Russian laboratory that caused the station to spin. The crew sheltered in their Crew Dragon in case they had to return home early.

Crew-2 also helped with the installation of upgraded solar panels that had been delivered on one of SpaceX’s Cargo Dragons. The first chiles grown in space were also harvested during their stay, and since NASA astronauts now get to eat food grown on the ISS, they made tacos. (They report that it was tasty even though long-duration space missions can affect astronauts’ sense of taste.)

A Russian film crew got footage on the International Space Station during Crew-2’s stay. This was separate from SpaceX’s deal to send Tom Cruise to the International Space Station for a film project, which was originally scheduled to launch in October but has been delayed.

SpaceX’s current slated missions to the International Space Station now include private ones like Axiom Space’s expanded deal to send a series of private crews to the ISS in preparation for sending its inflatable modules. The first two missions will be commanded by Michael López-Alegría and Peggy Whitson.

Crew-3 is now slated to launch on March 10 no earlier than 9:03 pm. Its crew includes NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, as well as ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer. NASA will livestream the launch on its live streaming channels. Although coronavirus safeguards are still in place in many areas, those in the vicinity can watch the launch in designated areas at the Kennedy Space Center and at area beaches.