SpaceX Crew Dragon returns from ISS to Earth

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

Earth hitting the treadmill with NASA astronaut Anne Mc Clain | Image credit NASA Anne McClain

No humans were aboard, when the Dragon unhooked itself at 11:31 p.m. PT Thursday and backed away from its port on the station's US -built Harmony module, 250 miles above the planet. The capsule then undocked from the International Space Station at 2:32 a.m. Friday after a five-day stay.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean on Friday after more than six days in space, completing its demonstration mission for United States space agency NASA.

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.

"We want to take a moment to recognize this milestone accomplishment that marks the inaugural mission of the commercial crew program", she said. If deemed a complete success, the mission would give NASA increased confidence in one of its prime contractors and propel the space agency a step closer to restoring human spaceflight from USA soil.

NASA has awarded SpaceX and Boeing Co $6.8 billion (£5.2 billion) in all to build competing rocket and capsule systems to launch astronauts into orbit from American soil, something not possible since the U.S. Space Shuttle was retired from service in 2011. NASA is counting on SpaceX and Boeing to start launching astronauts this year.

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

The spacecraft will bring back to Earth more than 300 pounds of science equipment, supplies and hardware. I think it's unlikely; we've run simulations a thousand times.

Once aloft, the SpaceX craft traveled to the space station, whizzing around the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour, catching up early the next morning.

Some issues still need to be resolved before that crewed mission.

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. The data from the demonstration-1 flight is part of the process to secure certification from NASA to fly crew.

Because of the schedule uncertainties, NASA has been talking with the Russians about buying more rides aboard Soyuz spacecraft, at a price that could amount to $80 million or more per seat. Provided it goes well, the first crewed mission of SpaceX's capsule will occur in July, featuring astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. (A test dummy named Ripley was on board.) The nearly-week long test flight culminated when the spacecraft disembarked from the station about 1:15 a.m.

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