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Four astronauts are expected to board the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and return home from the International Space Station on Friday, ending their nearly six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory.
The astronauts — Jill Lindgren, Bob Hines, and Jessica Watkins of NASA, as well as Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti with the European Space Agency or ESA — shared a goodbye hug with other astronauts on the space station and were tied to their spacecraft around 10 a.m. Eastern time.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft left its docking port on the International Space Station at noon EST, and will burn its engines several times to gradually reduce its altitude. It is expected to snow off Florida on Friday afternoon.
The crew was initially scheduled to leave the space station on Wednesday evening, but the Earth crews backed off this attempt due to severe weather. Storms also wrecked a second attempt to return Thursday morning.
As of Thursday afternoon, NASA was monitoring for potential weather issues at designated crew sprinkler sites, noting that a cold front was passing through Florida, according to the statement. Weather officials were confident that Friday’s weather would be more favorable as the high pressure system moved into the area.
Weather delays are common due to spacecraft launching or returning from the space station, especially as unpredictable storms hit launch sites off Florida.
Usually it is the Crew Dragon spacecraft that will bring the astronauts home Seven potential landing zones Off the coast of Pensacola, Tampa, Tallahassee, Panama City, Cape Canaveral, Daytona and Jacksonville.
NASA and SpaceX target Jacksonville on Friday.
This mission, called Crew-4, set a historic precedent, as Watkins became the first black woman to join the space station crew for an extended stay.
During their stay, the astronauts conducted scientific experiments, including research on how to grow vegetables in space without soil and studying the effects of spaceflight on the human body.
These experiments are designed to help astronauts understand how they might one day grow their own food and how their bodies might interact on missions deeper into space, such as NASA’s planned Artemis lunar missions, Watkins said during a news briefing last week.
“It was great to be able to walk into the Columbus unit and smell the leaves of the plants and the growth of plants,” Watkins told reporters.
Cristoforetti, who was on a previous mission to the space station in 2014-2015, is the only woman in the European Space Agency’s astronaut corps, and she herself made history on this mission. Last month, she assumed the position of commander of the space station, becoming the first European woman to do so.
Cristoforetti also conducted a spacewalk in July for its publication small satellite And work is to install a new robotic arm on the outer surface of the space station.