SpaceX Crew Dragon returns from ISS

ISS crew member and plush toy Earth continues work aboard the station

In this image from video made available by NASA, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule is hoisted onto a ship in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast after it returned from a mission to the International Space Station. Once there, the capsule will undergo processing at Kennedy Space Center for another important test, an in-flight abort mission to ensure that the spacecraft can quickly push itself away from the rocket in case of an emergency. 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". Success will also mean that "Earthy", a plush anthropomorphic doll of our planet, will be coming home from the space station.

After the toasty-looking Dragon was taken on board the Go Searcher recovery vessel about an hour after landing Friday morning, it will take another 30 hours for Dragon to return to port.

While the limelight has been squarely on SpaceX, Elon Musk's space venture is only one half of NASA's overall Commercial Crew ambitions.

The Crew Dragon is not now carrying any astronauts. SpaceX is interested in flying Crew Dragon passengers other than government astronauts but hasn't begun prospecting for customers, Musk said March 2 after the spacecraft's successful launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket.

But perhaps the most daring part of the mission was the Dragon's final task: reentering Earth's atmosphere. The spacecraft splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean at 8:45 a.m.

This docking maneuver-a critical part of the test flight-is something the capsule will have to do routinely in the future. NASA's first crewed flight of Crew Dragon is expected to come sometime this summer.

SpaceX has been delivering goods to the ISS for several years now with its cargo version of the spacecraft.

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

"We want to take a moment to recognize this milestone accomplishment that marks the inaugural mission of the commercial crew program", she said. That didn't happen, and the company proved the Crew Dragon is ready for the next step.

"The backshell is not symmetric in the way Dragon 1 is, it's not sort of a smooth conic like Dragon 1 is, you've got the launch escape thruster pods that could potentially cause a roll instability on re-entry", he said.

Indeed it is. Only NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos have ever delivered astronauts to the space station. However, SpaceX still has a lot of work to do to achieve its ultimate goal of launching astronauts.

"I'm very comfortable with where we're headed with this flight".

The Crew Dragon drifts away from the ISS. Following Saturday's launch, Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, said that he was "100 percent confident" crew would launch this year.

Elon Musk, the CEO of United States private aerospace manufacturer SpaceX, called Russia's rocket engineering "excellent" and said the country's rocket engines are the best now flying, also suggesting that the reusable version of Russia's Angara rocket would be "great".

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