Four astronauts who arrived at the International Space Station in April for a long-duration science mission began their return voyage to Earth on Monday after their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule separated from the orbiting laboratory for the flight home.
The Dragon vehicle, dubbed Endeavour, undocked from the space station as planned shortly after 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) in a process carried live by a NASA webcast, with video showing the astronauts strapped into the cabin wearing their helmeted white flight suits.
Operating autonomously, the spacecraft began its departure with a 90-minute fly-around of the space station as the crew snapped a series of survey photographs of the orbiting outpost, circling the globe some 250 miles (400 km) high.
If all goes smoothly, Endeavour was scheduled to parachute into the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast at about 10:30 p.m. EST on Monday (0330 GMT Tuesday), following a total return flight time of eight hours, including a fiery re-entry through Earth's atmosphere.
In a final sequence of maneuvers before leaving Earth orbit, the crew-cabin section of Space Dragon is designed to jettison the vehicle's lower "auxiliary trunk" to expose the capsule's protective heat shield.