SpaceX Dragon capsule ends test flight with ocean splashdown

This still image taken from NASA TV shows SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft safely aboard the company's recovery vessel following splashdown

This still image taken from NASA TV shows SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft safely aboard the company's recovery vessel following splashdown

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 parachute system that flew on this test flight was not entirely the same as the one that will be used for the crew flight, and neither were avionics and life support entirely finalized. In the long run, said Nasa's Johnson Space Center director Mark Geyer, US astronauts will continue to learn Russian, and vice versa.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon is spinning down its orbit after undocking from the International Space Station early Friday. NASA is counting on SpaceX and Boeing to start launching astronauts this year.

The Crew Dragon capsule gently splashed down off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida at 8:45 a.m. ET after spending five days docked to the space station. The 6-day mission brought Riley, a dummy astronaut covered in sensors, to the station along with almost 400 pounds of supplies. In this case, Crew Dragon's onboard computers undertook a much riskier maneuver to guide the spacecraft in to dock-a feat that was accomplished just before 6 a.m. EST on Sunday, March 3. After a half-hour freefall, the spacecraft slammed into the top of the thick lower atmosphere at a velocity of almost five miles per second.

At least until the first crewed Dragon makes an appearance to bring "Earthy" home. 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.

"The backshell is not symmetric in the way Dragon 1 is, it's not sort of a smooth conic like Dragon 1 is, you've got the launch escape thruster pods that could potentially cause a roll instability on re-entry", he said.

After a bowel-loosening few minutes while the capsule streaked through the atmosphere, the drogue chutes popped out at 13:41 UTC.

The successful test and splashdown is "an awesome achievement in American history", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who called the SpaceX flight the "dawning of a new era in American human space flight".

This time around, Dragon's own crew member is a dummy, named Ripley.

NASA's current schedule calls for an in-flight abort test of Crew Dragon, using the same capsule as flown on Demo-1, in June.

NASA resumed talks with Russia's space agency Roscosmos in February seeking two additional Soyuz seats for 2020 to maintain a USA presence on the space station amid delays in the commercial crew program.

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.

A small blue and green plush toy shaped like Earth - which SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk termed a zero-gravity indicator - was left behind on the space station.

The Crew Dragon capsule is the next big step in SpaceX's evolution, but it also represents something bigger: NASA's partnership with the commercial space industry.

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