SpaceX Crewed Dragon Test Flight Finishes With Perfect Splashdown

SpaceX capsule back on Earth paving way for new manned US flights

Crew Dragon departs ISS Crew Dragon backs away from the International Space Station during its Demo-1 mission, following undocking on 8 March at 02:32 EST.

Wrapping up a historic mission, SpaceX's innovative Crew Dragon, the first new American spacecraft created to carry astronauts to orbit since the shuttle's debut in 1981, wrapped up a unpiloted maiden test flight Friday, plunging back to an Atlantic Ocean splashdown after a five-day visit to the International Space Station.

The Atlantic Ocean landing is the first in almost 50 years for a capsule that was designed for humans, NASA says.

Friday morning's re-entry is one of the biggest tests of the Dragon and of SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk in 2002 with the ultimate goal of flying humans to Earth's orbit and beyond. It returned home today after offloading about 400 pounds of supplies for the International Space station.

Waiting in the wings is Boeing and its CST-100 Starliner capsule, being prepared for an unpiloted test flight this spring and its initial piloted launch this fall.

What made the reentry so ideal was that SpaceX gave a time of 8:45 a.m. EST as an estimate for when the vehicle would be back on the surface.

The uncrewed Dragon launched from the Kennedy Space Centre on March 2 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, docking with the International Space Station 27 hours later.

The demonstration mission - which carried no humans but a dummy covered in sensors - is the first of at least one more test that NASA will use to determine if the Dragon capsule passes the space agency's rigid safety standards.

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"Go Searcher" - SpaceX's recovery ship - was staged in the ocean. Crew Dragon continued to whirl through orbit and burned its thrusters four times to make a carefully choreographed, gradual descent. The dummy was fitted with sensors around its head, neck, and back for an experiment created to test how a flight would feel for humans.

The flight was a crucial test of the new spacecraft, a seven-passenger vehicle that SpaceX has been developing for the past five years. Dragon Crew is making history for all sorts of reasons.

It launched the Commercial Crew Program in 2010 to support U.S. companies in the development of new spacecraft to transport astronauts to and from space.

Only a test dummy was aboard for the test, but the first manned flight aboard Dragon is scheduled for July with two astronauts - a date that could be postponed until later this year.

Steve Stich, Deputy Manager for NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said during a post-landing appearance on NASA TV that, "I don't think we saw really anything in the mission so far - and we need to do the data review - that would preclude us having the crewed mission later this year".

Dragon also marks an important shift in spacecraft design; the wingless vessel is a return to the design made famous by the U.S in the 60s and 70s.

The splashdown was the final test on this mission for Crew Dragon, during a flight test for a capsule that could become the first USA craft to carry astronauts into space since the shuttle program was phased out in 2011.

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