SpaceX's Crew Dragon splashed down back on Earth, safely completing i


The SpaceX commercial astronaut capsule has undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) and will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean later on Friday. The spacecraft splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean at 8:45 a.m.

The U.S. space agency has scheduled the Crew Dragon's next mission for June when SpaceX will conduct an in-flight abort test. NASA astronauts showing up to the space station in a SpaceX capsule probably doesn't sit well with some of the country's top space executives, especially when Roscosmos itself is relying on Soyuz rocket technology originally developed in the 1960s.

The undocking, descent from Earth orbit and water-landing are the final stages of the SpaceX Crew Dragon's first test flight. NASA retired its own space shuttle in 2011 that could fly astronauts. "It won't be long before our astronaut colleagues are aboard Crew Dragon and Boeing's Starliner vehicles, and we can't wait".

The successful test and splashdown is "an incredible achievement in American history", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who called the SpaceX flight the "dawning of a new era in American human space flight".

Crew Dragon's departure burns quickly moved it outside the station's imaginary 200-meter-wide Keep Out Sphere, and in roughly 20 minutes, it was outside the 4-by-2 kilometer approach ellipsoid. It was carrying about 400 pounds of supplies for the ISS and a space-suited dummy named Ripley, which is "fitted with sensors around the head, neck and spine to record everything an astronaut would experience throughout the mission".

ISS Crew Member Earth Continues Work Aboard the Station 1
Earth making sure she is on schedule | Image credit NASA Anne McClain

The capsule launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket early Saturday morning.

The crew of the GO Searcher, a SpaceX ship rigged to recover returning crew capsules, planned to haul the spacecraft aboard and return it to Port Canaveral for detailed post-flight inspections. This extra safety precaution means the capsule has a more asymmetrical shape than the Cargo Dragon ship, which has more of a cone shape and has completed 16 missions to the space station.

The Crew Dragon drifts away from the ISS. The parachute system that flew on this test flight was not entirely the same as the one that will be used for the crew flight, and neither were avionics and life support entirely finalized. When the capsule returns, it will bring back a trove of scientific samples from research projects, along with other equipment. But that tower had to be jettisoned before the spacecraft reached orbit - before the spacecraft even separated from the rocket, in fact - briefly leaving the crew with no escape system at all if something went wrong. After five days docked at the Station, Crew Dragon disembarked and returned to Earth.

The three astronauts on board the ISS - American Anne McClain, Canadian David Saint-Jacques and Russian Oleg Kononenko - were able to get a first glimpse of the SpaceX capsule in microgravity while it was docked at the station this week.

The Commercial Crew Program is the end result of a series of NASA-funded industry competitions in the wake of the shuttle's retirement to develop a new American spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the space station.

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