Crew Dragon departs ISS and returns to Earth

ISS crew member and plush toy Earth continues work aboard the station

The capsule will prepare itself for landing with a deorbit burn before a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX's uncrewed mission began early Saturday, when its Falcon 9 rocket blasted off in the pre-dawn darkness from a historic launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the crew of Apollo 11 began their journey to the lunar surface.

Returning to Earth is described as the toughest part of the mission.

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

The SpaceX Crew Dragon is spinning down its orbit after undocking from the International Space Station early Friday.

Because of the schedule uncertainties, NASA has been talking with the Russians about buying more rides aboard Soyuz spacecraft, at a price that could amount to $80 million or more per seat.

Even before the launch, though, NASA officials cautioned that there was still some work to do on Crew Dragon before it would be ready to carry astronauts. Provided it goes well, the first crewed mission of SpaceX's capsule will occur in July, featuring astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

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Elon Musk, the CEO of United States private aerospace manufacturer SpaceX, called Russia's rocket engineering "excellent" and said the country's rocket engines are the best now flying, also suggesting that the reusable version of Russia's Angara rocket would be "great".

A final key test on Crew Dragon's emergency abort system is scheduled for June. This extra safety precaution means the capsule has a more asymmetrical shape than the Cargo Dragon ship, which has more of a cone shape and has completed 16 missions to the space station. "But this is a possibility".

At least until the first crewed Dragon makes an appearance to bring "Earthy" home. "Ripley" is the sole passenger on this maiden mission and she has a very important job. Scientists are using this technology to analyze whether the trip is safe for humans.

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NASA retired its own space shuttle in 2011 that could fly astronauts. 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 private sector's ability to do this has been viewed as a crucial next step in space exploration. It was carrying about 400 pounds of supplies for the ISS and a space-suited dummy named Ripley, which is "fitted with sensors around the head, neck and spine to record everything an astronaut would experience throughout the mission". SpaceX then conducted four departure burns to move the Crew Dragon away from the ISS. The astronauts have been showing the Earth buddy around the space station.

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