SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule parachuted down to the Atlantic Ocean Friday morning, successfully capping the first test of a commercial spacecraft that will likely bring astronauts to the International Space Station - possibly in the next year.
It was the first time in 50 years that a capsule designed for astronauts returned from space by plopping into the Atlantic.
In 2014, NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to develop spacecraft to launch US astronauts. At a pre-launch briefing, SpaceX Vice President of Build and Flight Reliability Hans Koenigsmann said that the company is still in the final stages of development on Crew Dragon's internal controls.
"Everything happened just perfectly, right on time the way that we expected it to", Benjamin Reed, SpaceX's director of crew mission management, said in a live stream from California.
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Ultimately, Nasa will be purchasing seats in both the SpaceX and Boeing systems to take its astronauts to the ISS.
This docking maneuver-a critical part of the test flight-is something the capsule will have to do routinely in the future. Television views from a NASA WB-70 research jet and nearby recovery ships showed the spacecraft blazing through the sky and then descending to a gentle splashdown about 265 miles northeast of Cape Canaveral at 8:45 a.m. The capsule was unmanned, although it did carry a test dummy named "Ripley".
NASA selected SpaceX and Boeing to design and build crew-carrying spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the space station - replacements for the Space Shuttle, which NASA retired in 2011.
The Crew Dragon re-entering the atmosphere on March 8. The SpaceX ship "Go Searcher" was in the Atlantic Ocean on standby waiting to use a crane to pull the craft out of the water.
But the bottom of the Crew Dragon is slightly asymmetrical, its ideal contours rendered imperfect by the four pairs of engines built around the base of the ship. The dummy was fitted with sensors around its head, neck, and back for an experiment created to test how a flight would feel for humans. This first SpaceX test flight opens a new era, Bridenstine said, with new technology and new business approaches.
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"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.
That completes its short mission to the ISS that put the module created to carry humans to space to test for the first time.
Crew Dragon also aced a key NASA review ahead of launch, and the space agency hasn't reported any issues with the mission thus far.
When the spacecraft undocked from the space station earlier in the day, it was still a clear white.
But like the launch, the docking went off without a hitch, and soon the three astronauts on board the station - NASA's Anne McClain, Oleg Kononenko of Russian Federation, and Canada's David Saint-Jacques - were able to check out the first commercial space vehicle designed for human space flight ever to dock with the station.
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