Crew Dragon departs ISS and returns to Earth

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

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

The capsule will prepare itself for landing with a deorbit burn before a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

The spacecraft launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida March 2, docking with the station 27 hours later after a problem-free approach. The landing, at 8:45am ET, came right on schedule as did pretty much every milestone during the Crew Dragon's first mission, a test before humans fly aboard the vehicle. After five days docked at the Station, Crew Dragon disembarked and returned to Earth.

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.

First commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft to dock with the space station.

In June, the Crew Dragon will have to conduct an emergency abort system test, which will ensure that this feature is good to go before SpaceX sends a human crew to the ISS.

The last generation of USA spacecraft, the Space shuttles, landed like airplanes, and two of the four original shuttles had catastrophic accidents that killed 14 crew members. Dragon Crew is making history for all sorts of reasons.

It was only about a week ago that SpaceX launched the Crew Dragon, the company's first crew-capable spacecraft, towards the International Space Station.

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

After a five-day mission on the orbital outpost, Crew Dragon autonomously detached about 2:30am EST (07:30 GMT) on Friday and sped back to Earth reaching hypersonic speeds before an 8:45am EST (13:45 GMT) splash-down in the Atlantic, about 320km off the Florida coast.

Still more parachute tests are planned before the scheduled crew launch, in the hope both of refining the technology and easing industry and government jitters.

Friday morning's splashdown was the final hurdle of SpaceX's six-day test flight. 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. Historic aerospace company Boeing are also readying to fly to the ISS with their own capsule, dubbed "Starliner", in the coming months.

It marks the end of a highly successful and long-awaited debut of a crew-capable vehicle for the U.S., almost eight years after the last Space Shuttle touched down. However, SpaceX still has a lot of work to do to achieve its ultimate goal of launching astronauts. Musk said, "That could potentially cause a roll instability on re-entry".

The mission comes at a precarious time for brash billionaire Elon Musk, SpaceX's founder and CEO, who has come under fire for his sometimes erratic behaviour.

"You actually see the light from the atmosphere, as it heats up the external portions of the space craft".

They will be joined by three more crew members on March 14: NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch, and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin.

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