SpaceX's Crew Dragon splashes back to Earth after debut flight

Pablo Tucker
March 9, 2019

A SpaceX Dragon Capsule made a successful, and historic, return to Earth Friday morning.

"It won't be long before our astronaut colleagues are aboard Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner vehicles, and we can't wait", United States astronaut Anne McClain said on behalf of the ISS crew after the capsule left the station.

"Crew Dragon returned to Earth with a splash in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida's eastern shore at 8:45am ET, completing an end-to-end flight test to the @Space_Station and back as part of our @Commercial_Crew Program", NASA tweeted. That completes its short mission to the ISS that put the module created to carry humans to space to test for the first time. Apollo 9 splashed down near the Bahamas on March 13, 1969.

NASA has been unable to fly its own astronauts since the final Space Shuttle retired in 2011, after which the space agency turned to the private sector to develop the next generation of human spaceflight hardware.

The craft did not carry a crew on this demonstration flight, which began on March 2 with a launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

A pair of recovery ships was stationed in the Atlantic well before splashdown and quickly moved in, lifting the capsule from the water within an hour. Sure, the Crew Dragon hadn't gone all the way to the ISS before, and it was definitely an exciting moment, but the safe reentry of the vehicle was always going to be the most hard part of the mission.

The Dragon launched from Cape Canaveral on Saturday. "@Commercial_Crew is one step closer to launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil". The following month, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are set to fly on the vehicle to the space station, the ultimate test for the closely held company's ability to perform regular ferry duties. It was a test and familiarization flight for the Crew Dragon. SpaceX - which has been delivering station cargo for years - is shooting for summer. NASA and SpaceX have not been forthcoming about what those problems were, and continue to refer to them vaguely as "anomalies", even in an October safety advisory panel report submitted to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. American astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques carried out air quality tests and inspections inside the capsule. Success will also mean that "Earthy", a plush anthropomorphic doll of our planet, will be coming home from the space station.

The star of the mission, officially known as Demo Mission-1 (DM-1), was an upgraded version of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. The astronauts have been showing the Earth buddy around the space station.

While Dragon's crew member was a dummy named Ripley this time, the mission sets the stage for a manned flight, which will see two USA astronauts - one of them Behnken - book a return trip to the ISS sometime before the end of the year, according to Nasa. SpaceX engineers dubbed the dummy Ripley, a nod to a character in the 1979 film Alien.

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