SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Capsule Ends First Test Mission With Successful Ocean Splash

Elon Musk's SpaceX 'Crew Dragon' makes successful landing

SpaceX's new commercial astronaut capsule, the Crew Dragon, has completed its first test flight, falling into the Atlantic Ocean on Friday morning. "I'm still shaking."NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine hailed the splashdown, saying it "marked another milestone in a new era of human spaceflight".

NASA has awarded SpaceX and Boeing Co a total of $6.8 billion to build competing rocket and capsule systems to launch astronauts into orbit from American soil, something not possible since the U.S. Space Shuttle was retired from service in 2011.

Privately owned SpaceX, also known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp, was founded in 2002 by Musk, who is also a co-founder of electric auto maker Tesla Inc. "We invested in the @Commercial_Crew program to strengthen the USA space program for the long haul, and it's great to see that happening", he tweeted.

SpaceX launched a plush Earth doll aboard its Crew Dragon spaceship in March 2019.

After a six-day mission to the International Space Station, Crew Dragon detached at about 2:30 a.m EST (0730 GMT) and sped back to earth, reaching hypersonic speeds before an 8:45 a.m. EST (1345 GMT) splash-down about 200 miles (320 km) off the Florida coast.

Next in line is a test that will take place in June and will target Crew Dragon's emergency escape system.

Ripley dummy astronaut in the Crew Dragon during descent
The Premieres of SpaceX's Crew Dragon First Flight into Space

NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, who will be on board the same Crew Dragon later this year, for the first ever operational mission to the space station, said Demo-1 in itself was a premiere.

Even though the capsule came back to Earth looking like a "toasted marshmallow" - in the words of SpaceX engineer Kate Tice - the heat shield held.

"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", he said.

Separately, Boeing is scheduled to carry out an unmanned demo mission in April of its Starliner capsule.

Capsules have no wings and fall to Earth, their descent slowed only by parachutes - much like the Russian Soyuz craft, which lands in the steppes of Kazakhstan. 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.

Considering everything has gone according to plan so far, the odds that NASA will green-light SpaceX to carry two of its astronauts to the ISS are getting higher with each milestone.



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