SpaceX's Crew-3 mission is returning with 4 astronauts after 6 months on the ISS

With three NASA astronauts, and one from the ESA.
Brad Bergan
A Dragon spacecraft after splashdown.SpaceX / Wikimedia

What goes up must come down. At least, in low-Earth orbit.

But unlike the fate of the International Space Station without Russia's Progress module, SpaceX's Crew-3 astronaut mission will execute a controlled descent through Earth's atmosphere for a nice, comfy splashdown in the ocean early on Friday morning, May 6, at roughly 12:37 AM EDT, according to a Wednesday tweet from Kathy Lueders, NASA's head of spaceflight.

While the final leg of Crew-3's journey (featured below for convenience) will be the most treacherous — as atmospheric re-entry always comes with risks — the ongoing international collaboration with private firms continues to signify a welcome state of peace in space.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon will streak through Earth's atmosphere

"Teams from @NASA & @SpaceX now are targeting #Crew3 undocking at 1:05 am Thurs, May 5 from @Space_Station. Splashdown off of Florida's coast is planned about 12:37 am Fri, May 6. The new undocking time allows for shorter phasing & more time to review the latest forecast info," said Lueders, in the Wednesday tweet.

SpaceX's Crew-3 was lofted to space atop a Falcon 9 rocket on November 11, 2021, and then docked with the International Space Station (ISS) the same day. Aboard the vehicle are three NASA astronauts — Kayla Barron, Thomas Marshburn, and Raja Chari —  and a single astronaut from the European Space Agency (ESA) — Matthias Maurer.

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Marshburn was in command of the ISS's Expedition 67 mission, until he handed control of the station to the Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, on Wednesday, May 4. Then the Crew-3 astronauts moved back into the Crew Dragon after midnight, early on Thursday morning. They'll spend all of Thursday cruising in orbit while the spacecraft performs precise maneuvers to place it into an optimal re-entry vector.

But the danger begins when the Crew Dragon strikes the Earth's atmosphere, streaking through at speeds exceeding 22 times that of sound, placing the astronauts under heavy G-forces as they plummet into our planet moves forward.

SpaceX, NASA, the ESA, and Russia continue to collaborate in space

Once through and in the air, the Crew Dragon will deploy its parachutes, which will enable it to glide down for a nice, soft splashdown near the Florida coast at roughly 12:43 AM EDT, Friday, May 6.

This is SpaceX's third operational mission to the station in its partnership program with NASA, but such partnerships are only beginning.

One SpaceX mission remains aboard the ISS in the wake of Crew-3's undocking, and that's the Crew-4 mission, which arrived at the station on April 27. This mission is also composed of three NASA astronauts and one from the ESA — Robert Hines, Jessica Watkins, Kjell Lindgren, and Samantha Cristoforetti, respectively.

And there's much more going on with the ISS. Recently the Ax-1 mission — an Axiom Space mission lofted to space by Elon Musk's SpaceX, took four private astronauts (space tourists) for a 15-day stay aboard the station. Marshburn, the NASA astronaut, was asked how the space tourists worked among the conventional astronauts, to which he replied: they're "great crewmates," according to a CNN Business report.

"They've been very kind and gracious with us as well," added Marshburn, in the report. With the ISS under the temporary command of a Russian cosmonaut, and several SpaceX-NASA partnerships moving forward, it seems that so far, space has remained a place of peaceful collaboration, in the common goals of commerce, science, and exploration. Let's hope it stays that way.

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