SpaceX Dragon demo capsule returns to Earth

Demo-1 splashdown

Crew Dragon is coming back to Earth: What to know

"For the first time, we've gotten to see an end-to-end test, and so now we've brought together the people, the hardware and all the processes and procedures, and we've gotten to see how they all work together, and that's very important as we move toward putting people onboard", said NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, who will crew SpaceX's first operational mission to the space station following Demo-2.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon departed from the International Space Station early March 8, splashing down to mark the end of a successful test flight for the commercial crew program.

It was the first time in 50 years that a capsule designed for astronauts returned from space by landing in the Atlantic Ocean.

In 2014, NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to develop spacecraft to launch USA astronauts.

Demo-1 undocking

A piloted flight test of the Crew Dragon could happen as soon as July, when it will carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Shuttles took American astronauts to space from 1981 to 2011, but their cost proved prohibitive, while two of the original four craft had catastrophic accidents, killing 14 crew members. This will be a historic moment for NASA too, as a successful Demo-1 will bring them closer to once again, sending people in space, a feat not achieved from American soil in nearly a decade.

Separately, Boeing is scheduled to carry out an unmanned demo mission in April of its Starliner capsule. Splashdown off the coast of Florida is expected at 8:45 am (1345 GMT).

A SpaceX rocket launched the 16-foot-tall capsule from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida last Saturday. That reentry appeared to go as planned, with the spacecraft first deploying two drogue parachutes followed by its four main ones.

The full video of the Crew Dragon's trip home is already available online along with commentary from NASA and SpaceX officials. Recovery boats were waiting to hoist the capsule with cranes onto the "Go Searcher" recovery ship. The spacecraft successfully completed the end-to-end flight test to the ISS and then back to earth.

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Also aboard Crew Dragon was a "zero-g indicator", or a plush globe otherwise known as Little Earth, that was put on board to demonstrate when Crew Dragon entered microgravity. The capsule is SpaceX's first that is created to carry humans.

The flight is a milestone for Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as they attempt to end United States dependence on Russian Federation for astronaut shuttles to the space station.

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".

The Demo 1 was the first flight test for the Crew Dragon craft that is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

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The Dragon is outfitted with abort thrusters that make the spacecraft asymmetrical, which he said "could potentially cause a roll".

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.

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