Astronauts Robert Behnken, left, space station commander Chris Cassidy, center, and Douglas Hurley field questions during a news conference Friday aboard the International Space Station. "And, you know ... it certainly wouldn't be the first time that that's happened in a space vehicle, but it will be the first time in this particular vehicle if we do", Hurley said.
But scientists will be closely monitoring the weather, as Hurricane Isaias barrels through the Bahamas and heads to the eastern coast of Florida. And it would end NASA's reliance on Russian spacecraft for the first time since the shuttle era. A successful Crew Dragon mission would usher in a new era of commercial spaceflight, with private companies such as SpaceX and Boeing taking over routine trips to the space station while NASA pursues other lofty science and exploration goals.
A piece of great news for those who don't want to miss this moment, the United States space agency will be live streaming the astronauts' return on NASA TV.
ISS farewell ceremony coverage at 6:10 a.m. PT.
Assuming the weather cooperates and no technical issues crop up, Behnken and Hurley would undock from the station's forward port around 7:30 p.m. Saturday, spend the night aboard the Crew Dragon, and then fire their braking rockets around 1:50 p.m. Sunday for a splashdown in the Gulf around 2:42 p.m.
However, landing Dragon near Florida has another advantage for SpaceX.
Hurricane Isaias strengthened slightly as it tore past the Bahamas on Saturday, bearing down on Florida and expected to approach the southeast of the state later in the day before traveling up the eastern USA seaboard.
The capsule carrying astronauts is on the space station from 31 May.
NASA has selected seven potential sites off the east and west coasts of Florida for the Dragon's return.
Then after it's en route, the ship is expected to shed its trunk, which should burn up in the atmosphere. "Crew Dragon will be traveling at orbital velocity prior to reentry, moving at approximately 17,500 miles per hour". The vehicle will see temperatures of around 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,927 degrees Celsius) during the re-entry. Musk has called this part of the journey his "biggest concern".
Benji Reed, who directs Crew Mission Management at SpaceX, said Thursday that the company has a plan to refurbish a Crew Dragon capsule in a couple of months, which includes removing exterior panels and checking the underlying hardware.
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have been aboard the space station since May 31, the day after SpaceX's historic launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the first manned launch from USA soil since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011.
After nearly 8 hours, the Dragon is slated for splash down at one of seven targeted water landing sites off the coast of Florida at 2:42 PM EDT on August 2 (12:12 am IST on August 3).