SpaceX Crew Dragon splashes down in Atlantic Ocean

Pat Wise
March 9, 2019

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean today, ending a six-day uncrewed test run preparing the way for astronaut trips to the International Space Station later this year. Once there, the capsule will undergo processing at Kennedy Space Center for another important test, an in-flight abort mission to ensure that the spacecraft can quickly push itself away from the rocket in case of an emergency. Ideally, NASA would have its own vehicles that it could send to the space station whenever it needs to, and that's what SpaceX's Crew Dragon (and later Boeing's Starliner) will provide. And Crew Dragon, as a first-timer to space, faced more risks than more tried-and-tested craft. After five days docked at the Station, Crew Dragon disembarked and returned to Earth. Like its freighter counterpart, the Crew Dragon can bring supplies back from the ISS (although not quite so much - its priority is cargo of the talking variety, of course).

The capsule, which reached the ISS on Sunday, undocked from the station at 0732 UTC Friday while over Sudan.

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.

The Crew Dragon never loses its built-in escape rockets, which eliminates that danger and simplifies the system overall. In contrast to the pristine white hull seen in earlier phases of its mission, the vehicle now bears long scorch marks from its fiery re-entry to Earth's atmosphere.

- 8:45 a.m. ET: Splashdown in the Atlantic, some 200 miles off the Florida coast. Boeing is set to test their crewed vehicle in Spring this year.

An American spacecraft created to carry astronauts has successfully completed a six-day test mission.

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"Human spaceflight is the core mission of SpaceX, so we are really excited to do this", Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's vice president for build and flight reliability, said on Friday in a pre-launch briefing. But before astronauts can climb aboard, SpaceX has to prove Dragon is ready.

The flight is a milestone for Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as they attempt to end US dependence on Russian Federation for astronaut shuttles to the space station.

Government officials still have safety concerns about both spacecrafts, according to a recent Reuters report and documents from NASA's safety advisory panel, all of which will need to be resolved before they can fly humans.

The forces exerted on the capsule as it blazed a trail through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds had SpaceX CEO Elon Musk concerned during the week. Soon, if all goes as planned, SpaceX and Boeing will compete for those contracts and launch the manned-missions from USA soil.

Next up is the first crewed flight for the Crew Dragon. NASA crew must train with the Russian crew for a period of time before launching under the agreement.

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