NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 astronauts leave the space station after Hurricane Idalia tore through Florida

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Four astronauts ended their six-month stay aboard the International Space Station on Sunday and are heading to land off the coast of Florida, days after Hurricane Idalia tore through parts of the state.

The astronauts, members of the Crew-6 mission operated jointly by NASA and SpaceX, boarded the Crew Dragon capsule on Sunday and departed the space station at 7:05 a.m. ET. The crew is expected to spend one day aboard the 13-foot-wide vehicle as it maneuvers through Earth’s orbit toward the target landing site.

The Crew Dragon capsule is expected to land at 12:17 a.m. ET.

NASA said it is monitoring the impact of Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall Wednesday morning on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The storm hit northern Florida before sweeping through southern Georgia and the Carolinas.

Among the four astronauts heading for landing are NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, as well as Sultan Al Neyadi, the second astronaut from the United Arab Emirates to travel to space, and Russian cosmonaut Andrei Fedyev.

The group spent six months aboard the orbiting laboratory after being launched to the station in March. Over the past week, Crew-6 astronauts have been working to welcome and hand over operations to members of the Crew-7 team, who arrived at the space station on Sunday.

During their time in space, the Crew-6 astronauts were to provide supervision More than 200 scientific and technical projects.

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“We accomplished a lot during our mission,” Hoburg said during a teleconference with the astronauts on August 23. As a crew, we did a total of three spacewalks.

During their stay, the Crew-6 astronauts also hosted the Axiom Mission 2 crew, a group made up of a former NASA astronaut and three paying customers that included an American businessman and two astronauts from Saudi Arabia. That flight was part of a plan to ferry tourists and other regularly paying customers to the International Space Station as NASA sought to increase the amount of commercial activity in low Earth orbit.

“It was a big adventure and a lot of fun,” Hoburg added.

The group also got to know their colleague Frank Rubio, a NASA astronaut who traveled to the space station last September aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft accompanied by two astronauts. Rubio has spent nearly 350 days aboard the space station and is soon set to break the record for the longest time spent by an American astronaut in microgravity. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Heij set the current record of 355 days in 2022.

Rubio’s return trip was scheduled for the spring. But the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which transported him and two Russian crewmates to the space station, developed a coolant leak late last year. Later, officials at the Russian space agency Roscosmos deemed that the spacecraft was not safe enough to transport the astronauts home, so they sent a replacement vehicle and extended the ongoing mission for six months.

“We’ve been here for six months,” Hoburg said. “When Frank flew into space, he thought he would be here for six months, and halfway through his mission he discovered it had lasted a year. His leadership here… has been amazing.”

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