SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule makes successful return to Earth

Jo Lloyd
March 13, 2019

This still image taken from NASA TV shows SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft safely aboard the company's recovery vessel following splashdown on March 8, 2019.

Launched on Saturday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Dragon docked at ISS the following day before detaching early Friday for its return to Earth.

History made: Crew Dragon was the first spacecraft to dock at the space station's new worldwide docking adapter, installed in the Harmony module by astronauts in August 2016.

Completing the test mission on Friday will bring SpaceX's Crew Dragon one step closer to flying humans - and ending the United States' years-long reliance on Russian Federation to fly astronauts to and from the ISS.

The final splashdown is expected to happen at 1345 GMT on Friday, March 8, in the Atlantic ocean, off the coast of Cape Canaveral. "I think it's unlikely, we've run simulations a thousand times, but this is a possibility".

Crew Dragon developed by SpaceX, a private United States spaceflight company, returned to earth and created waves in the Atlantic Ocean at 13:45 GMT.

The flight, called Demo-1, was launched on March 2nd and spent five days at the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX retrieved the spacecraft from the Atlantic Ocean and is transporting it back to port on the company's recovery ship. Without wings, the capsules fall to earth assisted by parachutes, rather than at space shuttles that more closely resembled planes that "flew" back to Earth.

Demo-1 was an un-crewed mission. Nasa's Commercial Crew programme is also relying on a separate Boeing spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner, which continues preparatory work for an unpiloted trip to the space station slated for no earlier than April.

"Fifty years after humans landed on the moon for the first time, America has driven a golden spike on the trail to new space exploration feats", NASA astronaut Anne McClain said from the station shortly after Crew Dragon departed.

It marks the end of a highly successful and long-awaited debut of a crew-capable vehicle for the USA, almost eight years after the last Space Shuttle touched down. "Our NASA and SpaceX teams worked seamlessly not only in the lead-up to the flight but in how we managed the flight", said Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

But the bottom of the Crew Dragon is slightly asymmetrical, its ideal contours rendered imperfect by the four pairs of engines built around the base of the ship. Ever since the Shuttle Program ended in 2011, NASA has been working with commercial partners to provide transportation to and from the ISS. "We want to make sure that everything is ideal".

The Crew Dragon splashing down. Astronaut Doug Hurley will be one of the first crew members to head up to the ISS in July 2018.

Since the government agency responsible for spaceflight shut down its space shuttle program eight years ago, NASA has paid Russian Federation to fly its astronauts to space.

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