NASA shares SpaceX Crew Dragon splashdown video after milestone mission

Eloise Marshall
March 9, 2019

Scorch marks were visible on the side of the 27-foot-long craft as it descended at the end of four red-and-white parachutes and hit the water at 5:45 a.m. PT. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had said the hypersonic plunge through the atmosphere was his "biggest concern", but the capsule appeared intact.

In this image taken from NASA Television, SpaceX's swanky new crew capsule undocks from the International Space Station Friday, March 8, 2019.

While docked at the ISS, humans entered the vehicle for the first time ever, in space. Apollo 9 - which orbited Earth in preparation for the moon landings - splashed down near the Bahamas on March 13, 1969.

Their vehicles-SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner-will be NASA's primary means of transporting astronauts for the foreseeable future, ending nearly a decade of reliance on Russia's space program to launch American astronauts.

The craft did not carry a crew on this demonstration flight, which began on March 2 with a launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX's unmanned Crew Dragon capsule landed off the coast Florida after a trip to the International Space Station.

The mission has so far gone smoothly.

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NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine remarked, "These are all capabilities that are leading to a day where we are launching American astronauts from American rockets on American soil.this is an unbelievable achievement in the history of the United States of America".

Waiting in the wings is Boeing and its CST-100 Starliner capsule, being prepared for an unpiloted test flight this spring and its initial piloted launch this fall.

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.

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.

A final abort test is scheduled for June and if that goes well NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley could fly on the first crewed flight of Crew Dragon in July, according to NASA's most recent timeline. He found the capsule "very slick" and called it business class.

NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) works with industry partners to provide safe, economical access to the ISS, and in the future, other destinations in the Solar System. In recent years, NASA and SpaceX have conducted 18 airplane drop tests of dummy Dragons with functioning chutes, and grew increasingly convinced of the system's reliability. Now, commercial providers - specifically SpaceX and Boeing - are set to fulfill the role, while offering considerably cheaper seats ($58 million per seat rather than $81 million). Instead, it carried a sensor-laden test dummy named Ripley - named for Sigourney Weaver's character in the Alien films.

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