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Will Isaias impact NASA astronauts’ return?

As of 6:53 PM on Saturday, Isaias was a tropical storm after moving over the Bahamas and weakening via dry air and wind shear that pretty much ripped it apart. The storm still has sustained winds of 70 mph and is showing signs of reorganization according to satellite imagery.

It is expected to restrengthen into a category one hurricane as it heads for Florida's east coast later this weekend.

Meanwhile, remember back to the end of May, when Elon Musk's SpaceX launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station. It was the first time a private company has launches US astronauts and the first manned mission on US soil since 2011.

SpaceX and the Crew Dragon capsule launch from Florida.

Now those astronauts are due to come home this weekend and have already begun the process of separating from the ISS. Upon their reentry to the earth, they will splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico, a feat that hasn't been accomplished by US astronauts since 1975.

The Crew Dragon splashes down in an unmanned test run via NASA

Obviously the weather will play a big role in where and when those astronauts can come home. Here are the criteria for a safe landing via Tony Rice:

  • Wind speed no greater than 15 ft/sec ~ 10 mph
  • Wave Period & Significant Wave Height: Driven by wave height and wave period relationship; in general, when wave height and wave period are the same, the condition is no-go. No greater than 7 degrees wave slope. (Wave height is the height of the wave and wave period is the amount of time from one wave to another)
  • Rain: < 25% probability of 25 dBz (intensity of showers on radar) in protected boundary
  • Lightning: No less than 10 miles and no greater than 25% probability of lightning in protected boundary
  • Helicopter Start & Hover Test: Pass-Fail test to confirm operational capability
  • Helicopter Operational Limits: Vessel limits will apply on motion (pitch, roll), cloud visibility, cloud ceiling and lightning
    • Vessel Pitch, Roll: No greater than 4 degrees
    • Ceiling: No less than 500 feet
    • Visibility: No less than 1⁄2 mile for day and 1 mile for night

Since the tropical storm is riding along the east coast of Florida, SpaceX and NASA have decided to splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico, near Pensacola. This one of 7 primary and secondary landing sites.

Here is the forecast for Pensacola tomorrow afternoon:

Winds of about 5 mph are expected with just a 20% chance of storms in the afternoon.

If weather conditions worsen, the mission may be called off and the crew would stay in orbit before attempting to return 24 to 48 hours later. Splashdown is scheduled for 2:41 pm EDT on Sunday with an alternate landing spot off of Panama City.

"Judging from the temporary flight restrictions issued by the FAA for the primary and secondary splashdown points off Pensacola and Panama City, the landing will be ~ 40 miles off the coast", said Tony Rice in an email.

You can even track the recovery vessel as it heads to the landing zone here.

You can find more info on the astronauts' return here and here.

A live feed of the operation and a step by step timeline can be found at NASA TV here.

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Brandon Libby


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