Published: Fri, March 08, 2019
Research | By Raquel Erickson

SpaceX crew capsule departs station for Atlantic splashdown

SpaceX crew capsule departs station for Atlantic splashdown

While SpaceX has aced the proceedings so far, this next stage will test the Crew Dragon's departure, re-entry and parachute systems.

The uncrewed mission of Crew Dragon capsule, built by SpaceX with the support of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), docked to the ISS over the weekend, marking the first time a US spacecraft had reached the orbital station since the Space Shuttle Program was shut in 2011. The mannequin, named Ripley, was equipped with sensors to help better understand what astronauts will experience when they launch on the capsule. Dock at the International Space Station: check. As a result, when SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted a picture of its inclusion, the company was inundated with orders completely depleting their available stock. The educational stuffed toy will remain on the space station while it's ride returns to Earth.

The space station's three-member crew greeted the capsule Sunday morning, with USA astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques entering Crew Dragon's cabin to carry out air quality tests and inspections. Astronauts closed the hatch to the spacecraft just before 1 p.m. Thursday. The capsule will undock from the International Space Station at 2:31 a.m. EST. It carried approximately 400 pounds of equipment, food and other supplies the astronauts need in order to continue their work.

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

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

Completing the test mission on Friday will bring SpaceX's Crew Dragon one step closer to flying humans - and ending the United States' years-long reliance on Russian Federation to fly NASA astronauts to and from the ISS. The data from the demonstration-1 flight is part of the process to secure certification from NASA to fly crew.

The unmanned capsule's voyage marks a key milestone for Elon Musk's space company and NASA's long-delayed goal to resume human spaceflight from USA soil later this year.

If all goes according to plan, it will wrap up the first complete test mission of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which is expected to carry its first astronauts into orbit by the middle of this year. The first flight without crew is slated for no earlier than April and a crewed launch in late summer.

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