SpaceX capsule back on Earth, paving way for new manned US flights

Crew Dragon Splashdown

Crew Dragon is coming back to Earth: What to know

Slowed by four parachutes during its descent, the unmanned spacecraft splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean around 8:45 am Eastern time Friday about 250 miles east of Kennedy Space Center in Florida, roughly six hours after undocking. The mission netted the Crew Dragon several "firsts" for a commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft including becoming the first to launch from American soil on a mission to the ISS, first to dock at the ISS, and first to dock autonomously.

Crew Dragon's splashdown in the Atlantic was nearly 50 years after the return of Apollo 9 on March 13, 1969, the last human spacecraft to return to the waters off the East Coast. The last such incident: the Apollo 9 splashdown on March 13, 1969.

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, was selected along with the Boeing group by NASA in 2014 to develop the next generation of space vehicles for USA astronauts, after the end of the 1981-2011 space shuttle program.

Crew Dragon's splash down in the Atlantic Ocean also included a full test run of the medical personnel that are always on stand-by for crew recovery after space mission landings.

The mission went off without a hitch and is set to revolutionise NASA's future missions.

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After the toasty-looking Dragon was taken on board the Go Searcher recovery vessel about an hour after landing Friday morning, it will take another 30 hours for Dragon to return to port.

On March 3, the Crew Dragon successfully docked to the ISS, marking a major step in space travel for NASA and SpaceX. Now, SpaceX and Crew Dragon have demonstrated their ability to safely shepherd astronauts back to Earth. The past week's flight marked the first-ever Crew Dragon space trip, known as Demonstration Mission 1 or DM-1.

The space station's three-member crew greeted the capsule last Sunday, with United States astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques entering Crew Dragon's cabin to carry out air-quality tests and inspections.

"This is an fantastic achievement in American history", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said on NASA TV, per the New York Times. American astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques carried out air quality tests and inspections inside the capsule. He found the capsule "very slick" and called it business class. 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. The astronauts have been showing the Earth buddy around the space station.

Little Earth and the new supplies stayed on the space station, while Ripley and about 300 pounds of return cargo, including a broken spacesuit part, headed back home on Crew Dragon. Instead, it carried a sensor-laden test dummy named Ripley - named for Sigourney Weaver's character in the Aliens films.

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