MELBOURNE, Fla., Aug. 1, 2020—NASA chose Pensacola as the primary splashdown site for the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Endeavor” spacecraft’s return to Earth.
The alternate splashdown site is off the coast of Panama City.
Following a scheduled assessment of weather conditions for splashdown, teams from NASA and SpaceX are proceeding with preparations to bring NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley home beginning today.
Splashdown occurs Sunday off of the Pensacola and Orange Beach areas.
Space capsules generate sonic booms when returning to earth. According to NASA, the boom “carpet” beneath the capsule is about 1 mile for every 1,000 feet of altitude. An aircraft flying supersonic at 50,000 can produce a sonic boom cone about 50 miles wide.
SpaceX was originally scheduled to land off the coast of Cape Canaveral, but because Hurricane Isaias is expected to move along Florida’s east coast tonight and tomorrow, NASA and SpaceX had to change the return location.
This is the first spacecraft splashdown attempt in more than 45 years when the final Skylab 4 crew returned to Earth in February 1974, landing in the Pacific Ocean.
This is also the first time the Gulf of Mexico has been chosen as a landing site, according to information available on Wikipedia. The Gulf has been used in the past for splashdown testing and training.
SpaceX will monitor changes to conditions until 2.5 hours prior to the scheduled undocking, when a determination to proceed with departure will be made.
If conditions are marginal and exceed the accepted criteria, a joint recommendation by SpaceX and NASA will be made whether to proceed with undocking at 7:34 p.m. EDT.
NASA and SpaceX will make the final decision to proceed after the astronauts are ready inside Crew Dragon just before undocking.
Live coverage of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 return will begin at 5:15 p.m. EDT and continue through the targeted splashdown at 2:41 p.m. Sunday, the first return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft carrying astronauts from the space station.
Hurley and Behnken arrived at the orbiting laboratory in the Crew Dragon May 31 following a launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida May 30.
This is SpaceX’s final test flight and is providing data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, splashdown and recovery operations.
Staff and NASA news release