SpaceX Crew Dragon splashdown moves US space launches step closer

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NASA’s ambition to resume manned space flights from US soil has moved a step closer to being realised following a successful unmanned test of the Crew Dragon capsule.

Crew Dragon splashdown
Crew Dragon splashes down in the Atlantic ocean after a successful flight to the ISS. Image: NASA

Developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the capsule was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket (a  two stage system specially designed to transport satellites and the astronauts into orbit) and splashed down off the coast of Cape Canaveral on Friday 8th March after returning from a five-day mission docked to the International Space Station (ISS). The capsule is the first commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft to dock with the space station.

Although the flight was unmanned it did carry a lifelike test device named Ripley, which was outfitted with sensors to provide data about potential effects on humans traveling in the spacecraft.

After SpaceX processes data from this mission, teams will begin refurbishing the capsule for its next mission, an in-flight abort test targeted to take place this summer. Demo-2, the first crewed test flight, will carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on the spacecraft’s final flight before its certified for routine operational missions. This crewed flight, would mark the first launch to the space station from US soil since 2011, when the final shuttle mission took place.

“Our Commercial Crew Program is one step closer to launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. I am proud of the great work that has been done to get us to this point,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“We were all very excited to see re-entry, parachute and drogue deploy, main deploy, splashdown – everything happened just perfectly. It was right on time, the way that we expected it to be. It was beautiful,” said Benji Reed, director of crew mission management at SpaceX.

The next step is ready the system for real astronauts. “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 on-board,” said NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, who will crew SpaceX’s first operational mission to the space station following Demo-2. “I’m, personally, very anxious to hear how Ripley is feeling after they pull her out of the capsule and get her onto the recovery vehicle."