SpaceX capsule splashes down in Atlantic after ISS mission

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

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).

Launched on Saturday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a mission to demonstrate that it could carry astronauts to the International Space Station, Dragon docked at the station the following day before detaching early Friday for its return to Earth.

Crew Dragon began its six-hour trip back to Earth after pulling away from the International Space Station, or ISS.

It was the first time in 50 years that a capsule designed for astronauts returned from space by plopping into the Atlantic. It's the first commercial flight to dock with the ISS and it's the first American made crew-carrying spacecraft to be launched by the USA in eight years.

It was the final hurdle for the six-day demo, a critical prelude to SpaceX's first flight with astronauts as early as summer. SpaceX has always intended for its Dragon capsules to transport humans, but every Dragon launched to the ISS so far-16 in all-has carried only cargo.

Protected by an advanced heat shield, the Crew Dragon quickly slowed in a blaze of atmospheric friction, rapidly shedding horizontal velocity and dropping steeply toward the Earth, descending along a northwest-to-southeast trajectory across the eastern United States. It carried approximately 400 pounds of equipment, food and other supplies the astronauts need in order to continue their work.

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

Demonstration Mission-1 (Demo-1) was an uncrewed flight test created to demonstrate a new commercial capability developed under NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

SpaceX's recovery ship headed out to pull the Dragon onto its "nest" and bring it back to shore for inspection. The capsule, which deployed its parachutes to land in the water, was safely retrieved by SpaceX's Go Searcher recovery ship.

The Crew Dragon drifts away from the ISS. Crew Dragon remained attached to the space station from Sunday, allowing SpaceX engineers more time to test a variety of systems and components.

The re-entry is one of the biggest tests of the Dragon and of SpaceX, the company founded by Musk in 2002 with the ultimate goal of flying humans to Earth's orbit and beyond. 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. Provided it goes well, the first crewed mission of SpaceX's capsule will occur in July, featuring astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. After docking at the ISS, the Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques was the first to enter the capsule, describing it as a "business-class" experience.

She added that she and the rest of the panel were pleased that NASA was taking steps, such as buying two additional Soyuz seats from Roscosmos, to alleviate any perceived schedule pressure on the commercial crew program.

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