Musk's SpaceX capsule set to splash down Friday after space station stop


The SpaceX Crew Dragon is spinning down its orbit after undocking from the International Space Station early Friday. There are a lot of factors that can affect the actual time of touchdown, but Crew Dragon splashed down at exactly 8:45 a.m., and SpaceX made it all look pretty easy.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule began its journey back to Earth on Friday (March 8) following a successful undocking from the International Space Station (ISS).

The Crew Dragon is the first capsule made by a private company, as opposed to spaceships built by NASA, that is created to carry humans into space and been successfully launched into space. Thanks to a camera under Crew Dragon's open nosecone, thruster pulses were visible in the darkness-a rare sight to see for a spacecraft returning to Earth. "We're not quite ready to put humans on either vehicle yet".

NASA officials/SpaceX officials confirmed around 2:30 am ET that the capsule successfully detached from the space station. A dummy, lovingly known as Ripley and dressed in SpaceX's astronaut gear and a suite of sensors, was its lone crew member.

The space station's three-member crew greeted the capsule Sunday morning, with USA astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques entering Crew Dragon's cabin to carry out air quality tests and inspections.

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

Yet, when the moment arrived, the spacecraft showed no signs of a rickety descent, eventually deploying its quad-parachute system and safely splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean some 280 miles (~450 kilometers) from its original launching spot at Cape Canaveral, Florida. By 13:45 UTC the Crew Dragon was bobbing around in the ocean, awaiting collection by the recovery vessel "Go Searcher" stationed nearby.

No human spaceflight has launched from America since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, and Nasa has relied on Russian Soyuz modules to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS in the intervening years. The first flight without crew is slated for no earlier than April and a crewed launch in late summer. NASA explained in a blog post on March 2 that the system is recording "everything an astronaut would experience throughout the mission, such as the forces, acceleration, the protection offered by Crew Dragon's seats, and overall environment".

That test is now scheduled for June. Success will also mean that "Earthy", a plush anthropomorphic doll of our planet, will be coming home from the space station.

"There's a lot of forward work to complete" on both Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner vehicles, said Sandy Magnus, a former astronaut who serves on the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, during a March 7 meeting of the panel at KSC.

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