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The Crew Dragon spacecraft as it leaves the International Space Station. Photo: NASA TV

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are heading back to Earth from the International Space Station aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Why it matters: Behnken and Hurley's return will mark the end of SpaceX's first crewed mission to the station and the first mission in which American astronauts launched from U.S. soil in nine years.

Details: Hurley and Behnken undocked from the space station about 7:35 p.m. ET on Saturday. If all goes according to plan, the two astronauts should be back on Earth tomorrow.

  • The Crew Dragon is expected to splash down off the Florida coast on Sunday at 2:42 p.m. ET.

Between the lines: Coming back home from space is always a pretty intense experience, but Behnken and Hurley are prepared for it.

  • Both are veteran astronauts who flew missions aboard the space shuttle.
  • And just in case they feel a little queasy while reentering the atmosphere and coming down for a landing, the Crew Dragon comes equipped with bags and towels.
  • "It wouldn't be the first time that that's happened in a space vehicle," Hurley said during a press briefing ahead of undocking.

The big picture: Behnken and Hurley's mission and those that follow are ushering in a new era of spaceflight for NASA, one marked by partnerships with commercial companies that serve not only the government, but other private entities.

  • Along with SpaceX, NASA also has a contract with Boeing to eventually fly people to the space station, and the agency is making plans to allow private individuals to launch to the station for tourist flights.

Go deeper: NASA passes the torch

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Nov 3, 2020 - Science

The International Space Station's end will mix up space geopolitics

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Twenty years after astronauts moved in full time, the International Space Station is nearing its end, opening up a new geopolitical landscape above Earth.

Why it matters: The end of the program will force nations collaborating on the station, along with China and others new to the human spaceflight scene, to recalibrate. They could also turn their attention to cooperating — or competing — on the Moon instead.

In photos: D.C. and U.S. states on alert for pre-inauguration violence

National Guard troops stand behind security fencing with the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building behind them, on Jan. 16. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Security has been stepped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S. as authorities brace for potential violence this weekend.

Driving the news: Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by some supporters of President Trump, the FBI has said there could be armed protests in D.C. and in all 50 state capitols in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The new Washington

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Axios subject-matter experts brief you on the incoming administration's plans and team.