From space to home, NASA’s astronaut workers reflect on a possible return to space

No one yelled “boo” or even “goo,” but the women wore retro pink flight suits and the men wore NASA T-shirts (the gray versions that actually get worn). The moment, a half-hour before sunset in Florida, took place behind a video wall set up in a hangar, with life-size astronaut designs painted on the ceiling. Across the room, on the curving touch-screen monitor, NASA engineers gave feedback on the film and the schedule.

On June 12, SpaceX began the long trip home to Cape Canaveral that launched the U.S. astronaut crews for the first time in almost four years. In a mission that was full of high-level corporate connections, it was a low-stakes flight that took the three returning crewmembers back to Earth as quickly as possible, carrying them to their homes and then on to Russia for long-duration stays aboard the International Space Station. The crew put away their suits and ties and focused on one goal — serving notice that SpaceX and Boeing, the other team now gearing up to ferry Americans to and from orbit, are likely to be in the business of transporting crew to space soon.

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