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A pair of NASA astronauts face the final and most important part of their SpaceX test flight: returning to Earth with a rare splashdown.

Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken took part in a farewell ceremony Saturday at the International Space Station, several hours ahead of their planned departure on a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

 

Despite approaching Hurricane Isaias, NASA said the weather looks favorable for a Sunday afternoon splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City, Florida. It will be the first splashdown for astronauts in 45 years. The last time was following the joint U.S.-Soviet mission in 1975 known as Apollo-Soyuz.

The astronauts' homecoming will cap a two-month mission that ended a prolonged launch drought in the U.S., which has relied on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to the space station since the end of the shuttle era.  

In launching Hurley and Behnken from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on May 30, SpaceX became the first private company to send people into orbit. Now SpaceX is on the verge of becoming the first company to bring people back from orbit.  

"The hardest part was getting us launched, but the most important is bringing us home," Behnken said.  

A successful splashdown, Behnken said, will bring U.S.-crew launching capability "full circle."

This photo provided by NASA shows, from left, front, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on the International Space Station, Aug. 1, 2020. Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to leave the station in a SpaceX capsule Saturday and splashdown Sunday.

Space station commander Chris Cassidy, who will remain on board with two Russians until October, presented Hurley with the small U.S. flag left behind by the previous astronauts to launch to the space station from U.S. soil, in July 2011. Hurley was the pilot of that final shuttle mission.

The flag — which also flew on the first shuttle flight in 1981 — became a prize for the company that launched astronauts first.  

Elon Musk's SpaceX easily beat Boeing, which isn't expected to launch its first crew until next year and will land in the U.S. Southwest. The flag has one more flight after this one: to the moon on NASA's Artemis program in the next few years.

"We're a little sad to see them go," Cassidy said, "but very excited for what it means to our international space program to add this capability" of commercial crew capsules. The next SpaceX crew flight is targeted for the end of September.

Hurley and Behnken also are bringing back a sparkly blue and purple dinosaur named Tremor. Their young sons chose the toy to accompany their fathers on the historic mission.

News Source: Voice of America

Tags: space station

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A bald eagle took on a government drone and sent it spiraling into Lake Michigan

(CNN)Bald eagle versus drone, round one: Bald eagle.

When a bald eagle tangled unexpectedly with a government drone last month in Michigan, it won, emerging from the scene unscathed. And the drone? Officials say it is somewhere in Lake Michigan. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy disclosed the attack on Thursday, almost one month after the eagle sent the $950 drone into the Great Lake.
    The trouble began when Hunter King, an environmental quality analyst with the department, sent a drone over Michigan's Upper Peninsula to map shoreline erosion, the department said. Delta flight returns to Austin airport after striking what may have been birds or a drone, officials sayHis drone's reception started to sputter, so he commanded it to return home. He watched on a screen as his drone turned back to head toward him when it suddenly began to spiral. Read MoreEventually, the drone disappeared -- and King saw an eagle fly away from the scene. A couple who witnessed the event told the environmental department they saw an eagle strike an object in the air, though they didn't know then it was a drone. They both confirmed, as did King, that the eagle looked unharmed as it flew away, the department said. Searches for the downed drone were futile. Telemetric data showed that the drone fell about 150 feet from the shore in water four feet deep, but staff couldn't find it after repeated searches by boat and on foot. A bald eagle has been released back into the wild after recovering from lead poisoningData from the flight showed that the eagle struck the drone about seven minutes into its flight, and within a half-second, the drone started to spiral. Three seconds later, the drone's propeller was torn off, and it fell 160 feet into the water below.
      The attack might have been a "territorial squabble" between the eagle and drone. Or the eagle may have been hungry, mistaking the drone as a seagull or another non-electronic meal, the department said. Drones have become an increasingly mainstream research tool that give scientists a bird's eye view of the environment. But they can confuse actual birds -- especially the birds of prey closer in size to many drones, like eagles -- who may confuse them for prey or attack them for flying through their territory.

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