SpaceX Crew Dragon still faces crucial tests before certified as safe

Muriel Hammond
March 13, 2019

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft settles to a gentle splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Cape Canaveral to wrap up a successful test flight, March 8, 2019.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule will return to Earth after its six-day demonstration mission at the International Space Station.

The successful test and splashdown is "an incredible achievement in American history", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who called the SpaceX flight the "dawning of a new era in American human space flight". The spacecraft will leave the orbit and its parachute will open up in the dense layers of the atmosphere, after which the Crew Dragon will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean at 08:45 EST (4:45 p.m. Moscow time). "There'll be a Russian on our flights, and we'll still have an American on a Soyuz flight".

Boeing could conduct the first uncrewed test flight of its CST-100 Starliner capsule as soon as April.

"We want to take a moment to recognize this milestone accomplishment that marks the inaugural mission of the commercial crew program", she said.

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

"Go Searcher" - SpaceX's recovery ship - was staged in the ocean.

The demonstration mission, called Demo-1, is the first flight test of a space system designed for humans built and operated by a US commercial company through a public-private partnership. The educational stuffed toy will remain on the space station while it's ride returns to Earth.

"Fifty years after humans landed on the moon for the first time, America has driven a golden spike on the trail to new space exploration feats through the work of our commercial partner SpaceX", astronaut Anne McClain said as the Crew Dragon departed the space station. But if all goes well, the next flight will see two United States astronauts book a return trip to the ISS, sometime before the end of the year, according to NASA. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine praised Crew Dragon's mission.

Despite Musk's concerns, Crew Dragon aced its fiery descent through the atmosphere and looked in excellent condition as crews prepared to haul it out of the water today.

The last generation of USA spacecraft, the Space shuttles, landed like airplanes. However, Kononenko did capture some truly spectacular images of the Crew Dragon capsule. That reentry appeared to go as planned, with the spacecraft first deploying two drogue parachutes followed by its four main ones.

The successful test mission marked an important moment for the USA space program's plans to restart manned space flights.

Nasa hopes to bring this near-eight year gap in capability to an end with the introduction of two new commercial transportation systems - the Dragon and another vehicle being developed by aerospace giant Boeing.

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