SpaceX crew capsule departs station for Atlantic splashdown

Pablo Tucker
March 8, 2019

This marks the first and only demo mission that Crew Dragon will fly without humans on board.

The uncrewed mission of Crew Dragon capsule, built by SpaceX with the support of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), docked to the ISS over the weekend, marking the first time a US spacecraft had reached the orbital station since the Space Shuttle Program was shut in 2011. Apollo 9 splashed down near the Bahamas on March 13, 1969.

Crew Dragon's return to Earth began yesterday, after astronauts finished packing it with about 150 kilograms of return cargo; some of that includes some cold storage samples, NASA said prior to launch. - The first human-rated commercial spacecraft to dock at the International Space Station departed early Friday morning from the orbiting laboratory. SpaceX engineers dubbed the dummy Ripley, a nod to a character in the 1979 film Alien.

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

"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 through the work of our commercial partner SpaceX and all the talented and dedicated flight controllers at NASA and our worldwide partners", said Anne McClain, NASA flight engineer now stationed at the ISS, as the capsule drifted away. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also included a small "zero gravity sensor" in the shape of an Earth-shaped plush toy.

Yet, when the moment arrived, the spacecraft showed no signs of a rickety descent, eventually deploying its quad-parachute system and safely splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean some 280 miles (~450 kilometers) from its original launching spot at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Splashdown is expected at about 1345 GMT (0845 EST) on Friday, and a vessel, the GO Searcher, will be waiting to recover the capsule. The capsule is SpaceX's first that is created to carry humans. However, Crew Dragon is carrying one lifeless - but lifelike - passenger, a dummy outfitted with a variety of sensors so scientists can measure the forces exerted on the body during the mission. Both SpaceX and Boeing have been working hard to meet that demand, and previous year it seemed like Boeing's Starliner would beat the Crew Dragon to its delivery date. The company plans to send astronauts onboard the Crew Dragon as early as this summer.

SpaceX's new capsule moves away from the International Space Station Friday.

That test is now scheduled for June.

There are now three astronauts on board the space station: Anne C. McClain from Spokane, Washington; station commander Oleg Kononenko from Russian; and David Saint-Jacques from Canada.

The timeline for Boeing's Starliner is not as clear.

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