SpaceX's Crew Dragon Just Returned to Earth After Historic Trip to the ISS

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon has successfully completed its maiden voyage. The capsule designed for carrying humans splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean early Friday morning, six days after it first took off filled with cargo to the International Space Station. The Crew Dragon is expected to take NASA astronauts to the station in future, which will mark the first time that American astronauts have entered space on a commercial craft.

The capsule successfully splashed down at 8:45 a.m. Easter time, around 200 nautical miles from the coast of Florida, sparking cheers from the mission control center. A team based just a few nautical miles away on two recovery boats rushed in moments later, who will now need to lift the capsule onto the Go Searcher recovery vessel to transport back to Port Canaveral.

It concludes a momentous mission for both SpaceX and NASA, dubbed “Demo-1,” that paves the way for manned flights later this year. Ever since NASA ended the shuttle program in 2011, the agency has been transporting its astronauts to and from the space station using Russia’s Soyuz rockets. SpaceX, alongside Boeing which is developing the CST-100 Starliner, is expected to take over and start sending astronauts from American soil.

The Crew Dragon is the first commercially-built spacecraft designed for humans to launch and autonomously dock to the International Space Station. It also marks the first time since March 1969 that a spacecraft developed for humans has landed in the Atlantic Ocean.

“It is incredible to get to this moment,” SpaceX’s Benji Reed, director of crew mission management, told the agency.

SpaceX launched the capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 2 at 2:48 a.m. Eastern time. The capsule was sent up with 400 pounds of cargo, including a dummy called “Ripley” fitted with sensors. It then docked to the space station on Sunday at 5:51 a.m.

The capsule undocked from the space station at 2:32 a.m. Eastern time, having spent five days at the station. It then completed a set of departure burns to move away, before separating from its trunk at around 7:48 a.m. in preparation for landing. The drogue parachutes were deployed at 8:41 a.m., before its four larger parachutes opened up to slow it down before the final touchdown.

From here, SpaceX is expected to hold an in-flight abort test sometime in June. The first humans to fly in a Crew Dragon could launch as early as this summer.

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