SpaceX Crew Capsule Ends Test Flight to ISS With Ocean Splashdown

Crew Dragon is coming back to Earth: What to know

The SpaceX capsule passed a crucial test on March 3, when the commercial spacecraft docked at the International Space Station.

After hours of suspense, the Dragon spacecraft touched down at 8:45 am (1345 GMT) some 230 miles (370 kilometers) off the coast of the U.S. state of Florida. The last such incident: the Apollo 9 splashdown on March 13, 1969.

Their vehicles-SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner-will be NASA's primary means of transporting astronauts for the foreseeable future, ending nearly a decade of reliance on Russia's space program to launch American astronauts.

Crew Dragon's near-perfect flight - an on-time launch, a flawless docking, and six days of operating in the punishing environment of space - did not guarantee a ideal reentry.

Crew Dragon is coming back to Earth: What to know
SpaceX splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean, completes historic crew capsule mission

"Dragon's trunk has been jettisoned and its de-orbit burn is complete", SpaceX reported in a tweet at 8:10 a.m. ET. 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.

Boeing, meanwhile, is scheduled to send an uncrewed Starliner to the space station no earlier than next month, atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

If deemed a complete success, the mission would give Nasa increased confidence in one of its prime contractors and propel the space agency a step closer to restoring human spaceflight from USA soil. Boeing is set to test their crewed vehicle in Spring this year.

"Everything happened just perfectly, right on time the way that we expected it to", Benjamin Reed, SpaceX's director of crew mission management, said in a live stream from California.

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

During reentry, Crew Dragon is subjected to absolutely incredible stresses.

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. This first SpaceX test flight opens a new era, Bridenstine said, with new technology and new business approaches. It quickly moved away from the station as in preparation for its return to Earth.

The space station's three-member crew greeted the capsule Sunday morning, with US astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques entering Crew Dragon's cabin to carry out air quality tests and inspections.

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"The bottom line is that the thing has to work every time", NASA astronaut Dough Hurley, one of the two crew members assigned to the July mission, told Ars Technica.

During a video interview with reporters beamed to Earth on Thursday, Saint-Jacques said it looked "like a business class spacecraft".

NASA has awarded SpaceX and Boeing Co. SpaceX engineers dubbed the dummy Ripley, a nod to a character in the 1979 film Alien.

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