Crew-2 Crew Dragon
The Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavour, with the Crew-2 astronauts on board, seen from the International Space Station shortly after undocking Nov. 8. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft splashed down late Nov. 8, returning four astronauts from the International Space Station after nearly 200 days in space.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavour splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico offshore from Pensacola, Florida, at 10:33 p.m. Eastern. The spacecraft reentry and splashdown went as planned. The spacecraft is expected to be brought on board a recovery vessel and the four astronauts inside extracted within about an hour.

One of the four main parachutes on the Crew Dragon did not fully inflate immediately after deployment, but did so later before splashdown. A NASA official said in post-splashdown comments on NASA TV that the agency will look into the issue before the upcoming Crew-3 launch.

“I know folks will be wondering about that one lagging main parachute. The team will be going off and looking at how the loading was on the chutes,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for space operations. “It is behavior we have seen multiple times in other tests and usually happens when the lines bunch up together until the aero forces open up and spread the chutes.”

“The thing that makes me feel a little bit more confident is that the loading and the deceleration of the spacecraft all looked nominal for us,” she added.

Endeavour brought back to Earth NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide. The four launched to the station on that spacecraft April 23, returning a few hours short of 200 days after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center.

The spacecraft undocked from the station at 2:05 p.m. Eastern. The spacecraft spent the next two hours performing a flyaround of the station, making a loop of the station from a distance of about 200 meters. Pesquet took photos of the station from a window in the Crew Dragon during the maneuver as part of a reconnaissance of the station’s exterior.

The return of Endeavour sets up the launch of the next Crew Dragon mission, Crew-3. Launch of that spacecraft, called Endurance, is scheduled for no earlier than Nov. 10 at 9:03 p.m. Eastern from Launch Complex 39A at KSC. It will send NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, to the station for a six-month stay.

Crew-3’s launch was scheduled for Oct. 31 but postponed by weather to Nov. 3. A “minor medical issue” with one of the four astronauts further delayed the launch, along with weather forecasts for both the launch and abort locations in the Atlantic. NASA officials haven’t provided details on the medical issue or who experienced it, but said at a Nov. 6 briefing that they expected the issue to be cleared before the Nov. 10 launch attempt.

Delays in launching Crew-3 led NASA to bring Crew-2 home first, a so-called “indirect” handover that leaves the station with only three people, including just one NASA astronaut, on board currently. NASA prefers a direct handover where the new crew arrives before the old crew departs, but agency officials said unfavorable weather forecasts later in the month for splashdown forced them to bring back Crew-2 now rather than wait until after Crew-3 arrives.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...