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

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

As early as July, Ripley the dummy astronaut could be followed by the real deal, as two Americans are scheduled to take off aboard the first crewed Crew Dragon, ending a drought of astronaut launchings from American soil that began in the summer of 2011 when the last space shuttle flew and the program was mothballed.

The timeline for the first flight of Boeing's Starliner is not as clear.

It was only about a week ago that SpaceX launched the Crew Dragon, the company's first crew-capable spacecraft, towards the International Space Station.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard takes off, on March 2.

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

Cheers rang out at SpaceX headquarters as Crew Dragon's parachutes deployed Friday morning, and then again as the ship splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, shown here. The capsule will undock from the International Space Station at 2:31 a.m. EST. The Crew Dragon capsule returned with 330 pounds of experiment results and additional gear from the ISS, which will be used for future scientific research.

Whether you're new to the spacecraft or an expert, The Planetary Society's Crew Dragon mission page is your go-to resource guide. After a half-hour freefall, the spacecraft slammed into the top of the thick lower atmosphere at a velocity of almost five miles per second.

What made the reentry so ideal was that SpaceX gave a time of 8:45 a.m. EST as an estimate for when the vehicle would be back on the surface.

Once the Dragon reached a safe distance, NASA's Mission Control in Houston radioed its congratulations to SpaceX's team, the station's crew and partners around the world.


Leading up to the re-entry, Musk had said he was anxious about whether the spacecraft would end up in an uncontrollable spin. I think it's unlikely; we've run simulations a thousand times. When the Dragon is safely away from the rocket, it will descend under parachutes - one more test of that critical system, too. I've said it before: "It is a new era", said McClain.

After five hours of free flight, SpaceX controllers jettisoned the unpressurised trunk of the spacecraft before firing the final 15 minute, 25 second deorbit burn, committing the Crew Dragon to a return to Earth. Eastern within sight of SpaceX recovery ships.

The Dragon capsule pulled away from the orbiting lab early Friday, a test dummy named Ripley its lone occupant.

There were no people on board the capsule, but its re-entry into the earth's atmosphere marked the first roundtrip to the floating laboratory by a privately-owned spacecraft and one of the biggest tests for the Dragon.


After the program was retired, the U.S. government, under then president Barack Obama, turned toward SpaceX and Boeing to develop a new way to ferry its crews, paying the firms for their services.

In so doing, NASA hopes to turn over the task of "routine" transportation to low-Earth orbit to the private sector, freeing up government resources for deep space exploration - a return to the moon and eventual flights to Mars.


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