The Ax-3 astronauts’ return journey from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the SpaceX Dragon crew capsule is underway, marking the culmination of their historic 18-day mission. Departing from the ISS at 9:20 a.m. EST, the crew is en route to a splashdown off the Daytona Beach coastline, scheduled for Friday morning.
This milestone event signifies the successful completion of the first all-European private astronaut crew mission. Led by commander Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut and dual American-Spanish citizen, the crew also includes mission specialists Alper Gezeravcı of Turkey and Marcus Wandt of Sweden, as well as pilot Walter Villadei, an Italian Air Force colonel.
Their mission, which began with a launch from Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A on January 18, involved nearly three weeks of living and working aboard the ISS. Throughout their stay, the crew conducted various scientific experiments and contributed to ongoing research initiatives on the space station.
As they bid farewell to the ISS, the Dragon crew capsule initiated a series of maneuvers to safely disengage from the orbiting laboratory. Following these procedures, the capsule will undergo multiple orbit-lowering maneuvers and jettison its trunk before re-entering Earth’s atmosphere for splashdown.
The targeted splashdown time is set for 8:30 a.m. EST on Friday, near Daytona Beach, according to Jon Rackham, Axiom Space spacesuit ventilation lead. However, weather conditions across the Florida peninsula will continue to be monitored closely to ensure a safe return for the astronauts.
The Ax-3 crew’s return journey has faced delays due to adverse weather conditions, with previous attempts on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday being postponed. Despite these challenges, the crew’s determination and resilience underscore their commitment to the success of their mission.
As the Dragon crew capsule descends back to Earth, the Ax-3 astronauts prepare to reunite with their families and reflect on their extraordinary journey. Their return marks not only the completion of a historic mission but also a significant step forward in the advancement of private space exploration.