Crew Dragon departs ISS and returns to Earth

Cristina Cross
March 8, 2019

The Crew Dragon spacecraft, flying a mission designated Demo-1, undocked from the station's Harmony module at 2:32 a.m.

Crew Dragon Demo-1 under main parachutes SpaceX's Crew Dragon completes its Demo-1 mission with splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean on 8 March 2019 at 08:45 EST (13:45 UTC).

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. With that - the first water landing in the Atlantic since Apollo 9 in 1969 - SpaceX moved one step closer to sending humans into orbit.

The Crew Dragon re-entering the atmosphere on March 8.

Crew Dragon's return to Earth began yesterday, after astronauts finished packing it with about 150 kilograms of return cargo; some of that includes some cold storage samples, NASA said prior to launch. "We're not quite ready to put humans on either vehicle yet". The capsule successfully docked with the ISS and earlier today it was sent back to Earth. A dummy, lovingly known as Ripley and dressed in SpaceX's astronaut gear and a suite of sensors, was its lone crew member. 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 space station's three-member crew greeted the capsule Sunday morning, with US astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques entering Crew Dragon's cabin to carry out air quality tests and inspections.

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

Officials at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration will scrutinize the performance of the SpaceX capsule's parachute deployment and its buoyancy after splash-down - two of the design and functionality concerns first reported by Reuters in February. Sure, the Crew Dragon hadn't gone all the way to the ISS before, and it was definitely an exciting moment, but the safe reentry of the vehicle was always going to be the most hard part of the mission.

Now, SpaceX and Crew Dragon must demonstrate their ability to safely shepherd astronauts back to Earth.

A final key test on Crew Dragon's emergency abort system is scheduled for June.

There are now three astronauts on board the space station: Anne C. McClain from Spokane, Washington; station commander Oleg Kononenko from Russian; and David Saint-Jacques from Canada. Provided it goes well, the first crewed mission of SpaceX's capsule will occur in July, featuring astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

The timeline for Boeing's Starliner is not as clear.

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