Dragon to Return on Thursday, NASA Plans Media Events Beginning Tomorrow - UPDATE
UPDATE: At a press conference today (May 30), NASA Flight Director Holly Ridings said Dragon will be released from Canadarm2 at approximately 09:35 GMT tomorrow morning (5:35 am EDT, 4:35 am CDT), May 31. It must first be detached from the Harmony module, but she did not specify the time for that event, saying only that the crew would be awakened at 04:00 GMT (midnight EDT, 11:00 pm May 30 CDT) and immediately get to work finalizing preparations for Dragon's departure. NASA TV coverage begins at 3:30 am EDT (07:30 GMT, 2:30 am CDT). After release, Dragon will fire its engines three times to move away from the ISS, taking a total of 10-11 minutes. SpaceX will resume control of Dragon thereafter and fire the engines again for a deorbit burn. Splashdown in the Pacific Ocean 490 nautical miles southwest of Los Angeles is expected five and a half hours after Dragon is released. All times are approximate.
ORIGINAL STORY: Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are unloading more than 1,000 pounds of cargo delivered by SpaceX's Dragon spaceraft and reloading it with items to be returned to Earth. Dragon is scheduled to unberth from the ISS early Thursday morning Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) and land in the Pacific Ocean.
NASA released details on planned coverage of the end of Dragon's test flight as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The flight has gone well so far, but the spacecraft must still return to Earth and be recovered before complete success can be claimed.
In an interview on NASA TV today, NASA's Lead Integration Systems Engineer for the Dragon test flight, Paul Brower, talked about some of the challenges that arose on Friday as Dragon approached the ISS. Remarking that unexpected situations develop whenever a new vehicle visits the ISS for the first time. Brower said that Dragon's computers locked up, some of its sensors went bad, and there were problems with some of its laser rangers and thermal imagers, while the ISS had problems with its GPS sensors. Working together, however, NASA and SpaceX were able to resolve the problems. Brower said SpaceX did a "phenomenal job," handling the problems "calmly."
NASA laid out its media events for the final stages of this test flight today. Here is a recap:
Dragon is the first commercially-owned spacecraft to deliver cargo to the ISS. It was launched on May 22 and berthed to the ISS on May 25. Berthing means that the astronauts on the ISS grappled Dragon with the robotic Canadarm2 and "installed" it onto a docking port. Dragon cannot dock with the space station by itself. It will depart from the ISS the same way, with astronauts using Canadarm2 to release the spacecraft, which will then fire its engines to descend through the atmosphere and land in the ocean.
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