SpaceX capsule back on Earth, paves way for new manned USA flights

One giant plop for mankind SpaceX's Dragon capsule splashed into the Atlantic ocean off the Florida coast earlier today

SpaceX crew capsule ends test flight with successful splash in the ocean by Marcia Dunn Published

At first blush, the performance of Dragon appears to have met or exceeded NASA's hopes for this flight to the International Space Station, including during the critical descent back to Earth Friday morning.

The recently built spacecraft docked to the International Space Station (ISS) last week, its first test mission went according to plan.

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 craft's splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean is expected around 8:45 a.m. ET, after it re-enters Earth's atmosphere. "I am proud of the great work that has been done to get us to this point".

Meanwhile, Boeing is gearing up for its first unmanned test following a delay due to a fuel leak in its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

The director of crew mission management at Space X, Benjamin Reed, spoke to Nasa TV moments after the capsule splashed down.

The International Space Station confirmed in a tweet the Crew Dragon undocked at 2:32 a.m. EST.

"Go Searcher" - SpaceX's recovery ship - was staged in the ocean. The capsule deployed several parachutes before successfully landing 200 miles off of the coast of Florida at 8:45am EST.

Dragon also marks a return to a "vintage" format: it is the first United States capsule since the pioneering Apollo program.

NASA resumed talks with Russia's space agency Roscosmos in February seeking two additional Soyuz seats for 2020 to maintain a U.S. presence on the space station.

The mission carried 400 pounds (180 kg) of test equipment to the space station, including a dummy named Ripley outfitted with sensors around its head, neck, and spine to monitor how a flight would feel for a human.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, in which it collaborates with private companies to develop new options for human space travel - and end US reliance on Russian space vehicles to get astronauts into orbit. Despite being similar to the smooth, cone-shaped Dragon cargo spacecraft, the Crew Dragon version is asymmetrical, which could make it trickier to navigate through the atmosphere while temperatures flair to thousands of degrees Farhenheit.

After dropping behind and below the lab, the Crew Dragon adjusted its orbit and jettisoned its empty trunk section, an unpressurized cargo compartment behind the crew compartment, to set the stage for entry.

To end its reliance on Russian Federation - a situation that many in the spaceflight community considered an embarrassment - NASA in 2014 awarded SpaceX and Boeing a combined $6.8-billion contract to build a pair of spacecraft to fill that gap. SpaceX then conducted four departure burns to move the Crew Dragon away from the ISS.

The last generation of U.S. spacecraft, the Space shuttles, landed like airplanes, and two of the four original shuttles had catastrophic accidents that killed 14 crew members.

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