The dragons are flying this week as one SpaceX Crew Dragon returned four astronauts to Earth just two days before a Falcon 9 rocket is set to loft four more to orbit on .
The quartet that originally rode to space on a Falcon 9 as part of the Crew-2 mission over six months ago splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida Monday evening. The Crew Dragon Endeavour returned to the planet at 7:33 p.m. PT (10:33 p.m. ET). Recovery vessels were on the scene to bring the astronauts back to dry land.
Originally, Crew-3 was supposed to blast off from Florida while the four Crew-2 astronauts were still aboard the International Space Station. After welcoming the new folks aboard, the Crew-2 group would then rotate out and climb into one of the Dragon capsules docked to the ISS for the ride home. But uncooperative weather has forced delays of both the Crew-2 undocking and the Crew-3 launch.
High winds near the splashdown site forced NASA to delay the Crew-2 return from Sunday to Monday night. Meanwhile, Crew-3's launch, which was originally planned for Halloween, has been postponed multiple times due to weather and a minor medical issue with one of the astronauts. It's now set for Wednesday.
The Crew-2 group comprises NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Aki Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet. The group was the third crew overall to fly in a SpaceX Crew Dragon and spent 199 days in space. The reusable spacecraft they rode home was also packed with about a quarter-ton of equipment and scientific experiments.
The long journey home began earlier in the day when the Crew Dragon detached from the ISS about eight and a half hours before splashdown.
The launch target for Crew-3 is 6:03 p.m. PT (9:03 p.m. ET) Wednesday. That Crew Dragon capsule, nicknamed Endurance, would then dock with the ISS about 22 hours later, at 4:10 p.m. PT (7:10 p.m. ET) on Thursday.