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. But one real flight beats any number of make-believe ones, and as the Dragon reentered and its attitude remained stable, there was a lot of relief at the company's mission control in Hawthorne, California.
Whether you're new to the spacecraft or an expert, The Planetary Society's Crew Dragon mission page is your go-to resource guide.
It was the first time in 50 years that a capsule designed for astronauts returned from space by landing in the Atlantic Ocean. Apollo 9 - which orbited Earth in preparation for the moon landings - splashed down near the Bahamas on March 13, 1969.
Splashdown occurred at about 8.45am local time.
"Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed!" the SpaceX account tweeted along with an image of the capsule showing its four main white and orange parachutes deployed as two boats sped toward it. "There was plasma, of course, as it re-entered through Earth's atmosphere, so we have a lovely toasted marshmallow there sitting in the nest of our recovery ship".
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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 unmanned capsule, carrying about 400 pounds of supplies and equipment, was launched into space as a historic test mission late March 1 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and it docked with the International Space Station on March 3. Instead, it carried a sensor-laden test dummy named Ripley - named for Sigourney Weaver's character in the Alien films.
Results from the just-completed mission will determine whether SpaceX can stick to its current 2019 test schedule following previous development delays for the Hawthorne, California-based company and Boeing. "That's mainly because we always want, in case there are issues with either system, that we have an integrated crew". SpaceX plans to launch its first crewed test flight in July with American astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.
Crew Dragon's departure burns quickly moved it outside the station's imaginary 200-meter-wide Keep Out Sphere, and in roughly 20 minutes, it was outside the 4-by-2 kilometer approach ellipsoid. That'll be our closest view out the window. "We're not quite ready to put humans on either vehicle yet".
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.
On Friday at 8:45 a.m. EST, the Crew Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida, Space.com reported.