Elon Musk’s SpaceX mission at risk as Storm Isaias set to delay return of NASA astronauts
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Elon Musk sent NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS on May 30 but their return could be delayed due to a huge tropical storm. The US astronauts are set for splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean on August 2 but Tropical Storm Isaias is tracking towards several potential landing sites. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft can’t land if wind speed is above 10mph (16 km/h) but Storm Isaias was last recorded carrying top sustained winds of 85 mph (135 kph), according to the National Hurricane Centre.
NASA boss Jim Bridenstine wrote on Twitter: “Teams from NASA and SpaceX remain GO with plans to bring the astronauts home to Earth on Sunday afternoon.
“We will continue to monitor weather before undocking Saturday night.”
He later said in a press briefing: “We cannot wait to get Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley back to Earth. But of course we have some weather pending.”
Hurricane Isaias strengthened slightly as it tore past the Bahamas on Saturday, bearing down on Florida and expected to approach the southeast of the state later in the day before traveling up the eastern US seaboard.
The storm was due to pass over or near islands in the central and northwest Bahamas on Saturday morning, bringing a danger of damaging storm surges of up to 5 feet (1.52 m) over normal tide levels, the NHC said.
The storm, a Category 1 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, prompted authorities in parts of Florida to close COVID-19 testing sites and people to stock up on essentials.
Isaias was expected to deliver heavy rains to the state’s Atlantic coast beginning late Friday before hitting the eastern Carolinas by early next week, the NHC said.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis established a state of emergency for a dozen counties on the Atlantic coast, which makes it easier to mobilize resources. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper followed suit.
The storm has caused at least two deaths in the Dominican Republic and torn down trees, flooded streets and knocked out power for thousands of homes and businesses in Puerto Rico, according to media reports.
Public beaches, parks, marinas and golf courses closed in Miami-Dade County on Friday.
Miami-Dade and Broward counties also closed drive-through and walk-up testing sites for COVID-19, as the state at the epicenter of the country’s outbreak reported a record increase in coronavirus deaths for a fourth day in a row.
DeSantis said testing sites would remain open on Florida’s west coast, and testing at hospitals and community centres may also continue.
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NASA’s commercial crew manager Steve Stich said: “We have plenty of opportunities here in August and we’re in no hurry to come home.
He added the next return opportunity opens on Monday should Isaias force a delay.
Stich said Crew Dragon, an acorn-shaped pod that can seat up to seven astronauts, has been in a “very healthy” condition since docking on May 31 to the space station, where astronauts have been conducting tests and monitoring how the spacecraft performs over time in space.
Upon a successful splashdown, the spacecraft will have completed its final key test to prove it can transport astronauts to and from space a task SpaceX has accomplished dozens of times with its cargo-only capsule but never before with humans aboard.
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