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Axiom crew set for return to Earth on Sunday, Crew-4 to launch days later

By Amy Thompson
1/7
NASA's SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts –- from front, left to right, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, Jessica Watson, and Samantha Cristoforetti -- walk out through the double doors below the Neil A. Armstrong Building's Astronaut Crew Quarters at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a dry dress rehearsal on Wednesday. Photo by Kim Shiflett/NASA | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/4ecc619875d88c94b8e7965fb5ca1628/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
NASA's SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts –- from front, left to right, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, Jessica Watson, and Samantha Cristoforetti -- walk out through the double doors below the Neil A. Armstrong Building's Astronaut Crew Quarters at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a dry dress rehearsal on Wednesday. Photo by Kim Shiflett/NASA | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., April 21 (UPI) -- The first private astronaut crew aboard the International Space Station is set to return to Earth on Sunday after weather delays and NASA's Crew-4 mission will look to launch on Tuesday.

"The decision [to delay landing] was made based on the best weather for splashdown of the first private astronaut mission to visit the International Space Station and the return trajectory required to bring the crew and the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft back to Earth safely," NASA said in a blog post Wednesday.

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The Axiom crew -- Michael López-Alegría, a retired NASA astronaut who works for Axiom; Larry Connor, a real estate and technology entrepreneur; Mark Pathy, a Canadian businessman; and Eytan Stibbe, an Israeli entrepreneur and former fighter jet pilot -- launched to the ISS on April 8, for a planned 10-day mission.

Their trip, however, has been unexpectedly prolonged due to poor weather at their landing site.

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The new schedule calls for the crew to board the Dragon spacecraft and close the hatch around 6:30 p.m. EDT Saturday and undock from the ISS at 8:35 p.m. EDT. They would splash down at 1:46 p.m. EDT Sunday.

The capsule will land in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida; its exact location will depend on sea heights and weather. Once the crew has been safely extracted, teams from NASA and SpaceX can switch their focus to the next set of astronauts to launch.

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NASA's Crew-4 -- Kjell Lindgren, Jessica Watkins and Bob Hines of NASA, along with Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti -- is expected to launch at 4:15 a.m. EDT Tuesday at the earliest.

Their mission was delayed due to Ax-1's postponement, as it is parked in their spot on the station. There are only two ports on the ISS where the Dragon can dock, both in use.

NASA's head of human spaceflight, Kathy Leuders, told UPI on Wednesday that the teams want a two-day window between the return of Ax-1 and the launch of Crew-4 so that the recovery vessels can be restaged and agency officials can review flight data from the Axiom mission.

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Beyond Tuesday, the mission could also launch on Wednesday or April 28.

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NASA, SpaceX launch Crew-3 mission to ISS

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches NASA's third crew to the International Space Station at 9:03 p.m. November 10 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

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