SpaceX Crew Dragon, built to carry humans, returns home from space station

09 March, 2019, 00:41 | Author: Bridget Leonard
  • ISS crew member and plush toy Earth continues work aboard the station

An image taken from NASA Television shows SpaceX's Dragon Crew capsule, above, moving away from the International Space Station on Friday, heading for a splashdown on Earth.

Boeing won contracts totaling $4.82 billion to develop the CST-100 Starliner, a capsule that will launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

First commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft and rocket to launch from American soil on a mission to the space station. But now, SpaceX has taken a major leap forward and is poised to fly its first test mission with two Nasa astronauts on board later this year.

A small blue and green plush toy shaped like Earth - which SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk termed a zero-gravity indicator - was left behind on the space station. Crew Dragon remained attached to the space station from Sunday, allowing SpaceX engineers more time to test a variety of systems and components.

The capsule's splashdown was aided by SpaceX's recovery vessel "Go Searcher", a ship equipped to pluck it from amidst the roiling ocean waves and carry it back to shore.

Assuming a detailed post-flight inspection and data analysis confirm the capsule's apparently problem-free performance, NASA will be a major step closer to launching two astronauts aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule this summer, the first flight of a US crew from American soil since the shuttle made its final flight in 2011.

Dragon splashed into the Atlantic Ocean exactly on time, at 08:45 EST (13:45 UTC). The recently built spacecraft docked to the International Space Station (ISS) last week, its first test mission went according to plan.

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

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.

But the capsule was also responsible for delivering supplies to the International Space Station.

The reusability of SpaceX's Dragon is one of its selling points, and is also the reason Friday morning's splashdown happened in the Atlantic Ocean, rather than the calmer and bigger Pacific. But before astronauts can climb aboard, SpaceX has to prove Dragon is ready. Despite being similar to the smooth, cone-shaped Dragon cargo spacecraft, the Crew Dragon version is asymmetrical, which could make it trickier to navigate through the atmosphere while temperatures flair to thousands of degrees Farhenheit. "That [shape] could potentially cause a roll instability on reentry", Musk said.

"I'm very comfortable with where we're headed with this flight".

It marks the end of a highly successful and long-awaited debut of a crew-capable vehicle for the USA, almost eight years after the last Space Shuttle touched down.

Russian Federation has been critical of SpaceX and Elon Musk before, and it's no secret that some of the biggest names in Russia's space science scene aren't super fond of the company or its boss.

They will be joined by three more crew members on March 14: NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch, and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin.


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