SpaceX Dragon Capsule Splashes Down In Atlantic Ocean

Gwen Vasquez
March 9, 2019

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship hits the waters of the Atlantic Ocean for splashdown.

The astronauts have begun procedures ahead of Crew Dragon's undocking at 2:31 a.m. Friday. It's aiming for a morning splashdown in the Atlantic off Florida's coast, the final hurdle of the six-day test flight. The capsule is SpaceX's first that is created to carry humans.

The United States has not launched astronauts into space since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011.

The mission, known as Demo-1, is a critical step for NASA and SpaceX to demonstrate the ability to safely fly missions with NASA astronauts to the orbital laboratory.

Space X's latest mission is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX then conducted four departure burns to move the Crew Dragon away from the ISS.

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 U.S. soil. The parachute system that flew on this test flight was not entirely the same as the one that will be used for the crew flight, and neither were avionics and life support entirely finalized.

This time around, Dragon's own crew member is a dummy, named Ripley.

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The mission, dubbed Demo-1, kicked off just under a week ago with the launch of the crew-capable Dragon capsule aboard a Falcon 9 booster, and subsequent docking the following day. According to NASA's Launch Schedule, the Crew Dragon's crewed mission, which will bring Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS, is expected to take place sometime in July. Both SpaceX and Boeing have been hampered with delays - but 2019 could be the year they start flying crew.

"This is an fantastic achievement in American history", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said on NASA TV, per the New York Times.

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

But before that happens, the private companies need to complete a series of tests to prove their spaceships are safe to transport the astronauts.

During a video interview with reporters beamed to Earth on Thursday, Saint-Jacques said it looked "like a business class spacecraft". NASA awarded the first contracts in 2014 to SpaceX and Boeing, now totaling about $8 billion.

A spacesuit-wearing, sensor-laden mannequin nicknamed Ripley (in honor of Sigourney Weaver's character in the "Alien" sci-fi movies) rode in one of the Dragon's seats, to document what living, breathing astronauts would hear and feel.

The nearly-week long journey culminated when the spacecraft disembarked from the station about 2.30am Friday, fired its engine to slow down, and barrelled through the thickening atmosphere on its fiery return to Earth.

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