Crew-6 has departed the International Space Station in the Crew Dragon “Endeavour” after a brief delay due to Hurricane Idalia. Idalia primarily hit the Gulf Coast in Florida, causing concern about the safety of the splashdown site.
Crew-7 launched on August 26, 2023, and reached the International Space Station to begin a handover process that typically lasts a few days.
Crew-6 spent six months on the space station, conducting experiments and research. It became especially known for the first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to serve a long-duration mission on the space station. Sultan Alneyadi joined the crew as part of a deal between the UAE, SpaceX, and NASA.
NASA is expected to livestream the Endeavour’s reentry and splashdown later today (September 3).
Crew-6 has been on the International Space Station since March 3, 2023. Along with Alneyadi, its crew included NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, along with Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.
Although the weather was foul — and, yes, caused flooding, damage, and power-outs on the gulf coast — Endeavour remained in good enough shape for flight controllers to give the go-ahead for undocking once everything cleared out. This mission was Endeavour’s fourth flight. It previously flew Demo-2 with Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the Crew-2 mission, and the Axiom-1 mission.
Axiom-1 was the first fully private mission to visit the International Space Station and was organized by Axiom Space to begin preparing for the arrival of Axiom Space’s inflatable modules. The company eventually plans to spin those modules off into a privately owned space station that NASA can rent space on.
While Endeavour reenters and recovery ships retrieve it, a perimeter will be established to prevent privately owned boats from getting too close. This had been an issue during Demo-2, when curiosity-seekers with boats got too close to the splashdown sight.
Valuable experiments conducted by Crew-6 included a study of heart, brain, and cartilage tissue samples in microgravity. Two studies featured drugs that could have benefits for cardiac patients on Earth. The crew also tested the ways that certain materials burn in microgravity, which could help with the development of more advanced firefighting equipment on Earth.
The crew also upgraded equipment on the International Space Station, including adding a new model of solar panel that had been delivered on a SpaceX Cargo Dragon. This solar panel is designed to roll out like a sleeping bag, making it easier to stow in an automated cargo spacecraft. The new panels will supplement the familiar, yet aging, “rigid” solar panels that had been delivered to the space station by the Space Shuttle.
(This would be a cool spinoff for portable applications, by the way. Imagine getting to your campsite and you can just roll out a solar panel to keep your devices charged the way you’d roll out a sleeping bag. A search on Amazon only turned up some “flexible” and “thinner” solar panels. For now, though, one can only watch NASA’s spinoff page for news.)
Now that Crew-6 is returning to Earth, the crew will be expected to spend time readjusting to life on Earth. NASA is still improving its understanding of the health effects of long-duration space missions using the International Space Station. However, it’s normal for returning crew members to have issues with their balance, blood pressure, and senses while they readjust. They may even misplace items due to being used to them staying in midair or drifting off with the flow of air when they let go:
However, they are likely to hold a post-mission press conference as soon as they can. For right now, Crew-6 is on its way back to Earth after a successful six-month mission on the International Space Station.