FOUR astronauts will travel home to Earth from the International Space Station this weekend aboard a SpaceX capsule.
The nervy descent is due to begin tomorrow and will conclude on Saturday with a splashdown in ocean near Florida.
Nasa astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker will be on board alongside Soichi Noguchi of Japan’s space agency, JAXA.
The team made their way to the station 250 miles (400km) above Earth in the same Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Resilience, in November.
Nasa had been planning to carry out the 24-hour ride home on Wednesday but pushed it back to May 1 due to weather conditions at the landing zone.
The ISS is a little crowded at the moment, with 11 astronauts and cosmonauts onboard the orbiting space lab.
It’s the largest crew in almost a decade thanks to the addition of four astronauts last week following SpaceX’s successful Crew-2 mission.
Hopkins and co will lighten the station’s load by piling into Resilience and closing the hatch at around 3:30pm ET (8:30pm BST) on Friday.
The capsule will undock two hours later and fire up its thrusters to steer it onto a safe path for deorbit.
As it travels through the atmosphere, the capsule will hit speeds of 7,500mph (12,000kph) and heat up to 1,900C (3,500F).
The crew will splash down at one of seven sites in the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico at around 11:36am ET (4:36pm BST) on Saturday.
SpaceX will pick the landing location based on Resilience’s orbital path, the weather and the positioning of Nasa’s recovery teams.
Coverage will be streaming on Nasa Television from Friday.
The flight will leave just one SpaceX capsule docked to the ISS.
Crew Dragon Endeavour lifted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on April 23.
The mission marked the second «operational» space station team to be launched by Nasa aboard a SpaceX vehicle since the United States resumed flying astronauts into space from US soil last year.
Astronauts had flown to orbit onboard Russian rockets during a nine-year hiatus at the end of the US space shuttle program in 2011.
It was also the third crewed flight launched to orbit under Nasa’s fledgling public-private partnership with SpaceX, the rocket company founded and owned by billionaire high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.
The first was an out-and-back test mission carrying just two astronauts into orbit last May.
Friday’s Crew 2 team included two Nasa astronauts — mission commander Shane Kimbrough, 53, and pilot Megan McArthur, 49.
They were joined by Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, 52, and Frenchman and European Space Agency engineer Thomas Pesquet, 43.
The crew is expected to spend about six months aboard the orbiting research platform conducting science experiments and maintenance before returning to Earth.