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Astronauts set to return home from the International Space Station today

Four astronauts are expected to board their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and return home from the International Space Station on Friday, bringing an end to their nearly six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory.

The NASA SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts (from left) Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren and Samantha Cristoforetti are seated inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

The astronauts — NASA’s Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins, as well as Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti with the European Space Agency or ESA — are expected to disembark from the ISS at 11:35 a.m. ET for the Crew Dragon’s departure, and splashdown off the coast of Florida could occur just a few hours later, at 4:50 pm ET, according to a NASA press release.

The crew was initially scheduled to depart the ISS Wednesday evening, but ground crews waved off that attempt because of rough weather. Storms also dashed a second attempt at the return Thursday morning.

As of Thursday afternoon, NASA had still been monitoring potential weather issues at the crew’s designated splashdown sites, noting that a cold front was passing through Florida, according to a press release. Weather officials had more confidence that Friday’s weather would be more favorable as a high-pressure system moved into the area.

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Weather forcing delays of spacecraft launching or returning from the ISS is extremely common, especially as unpredictable storms batter the spashdown sites off the coast of Florida.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft that will bring the astronauts home typically has seven potential landing zones — just off the coast of Pensacola, Tampa, Tallahassee, Panama City, Cape Canaveral, Daytona and Jacksonville.

This mission, called Crew-4, has marked a historic first on the ISS, as Jessica Watkins became the first Black woman to join the space station crew for an extended stay.

During their stay, the astronauts conducted various science experiments, including some research on how to grow vegetables in space without soil and studying the effects of spaceflight on the human body.

Those experiments are designed to help astronauts understand how they may one day grow their own food and how their bodies may react on missions deeper into space, such as on NASA’s planned Artemis moon missions, Watkins said during a news briefing last week.

“It’s been awesome to be able to walk into the Columbus module and smell the smell of leaves growing, of plants growing,” Watkins told reporters.

Cristoforetti, who was on one previous mission to the ISS in 2014-2015, is the sole woman in ESA’s astronaut corps, and she made history of her own on this mission. Last month, she took over as commander of the space station, making her the first European woman ever to step into that role.

Cristoforetti also conducted a spacewalk in July to deploy several small satellites and work on the installation of a new robotic arm on the ISS’s exterior.

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