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. After being released by the rocket's second stage, the Crew Dragon executed a series of orbital phasing maneuvers, finally rendezvousing with the International Space Station on Sunday morning. 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.
This marks the first and only demo mission that Crew Dragon will fly without humans on board. Success will also mean that "Earthy", a plush anthropomorphic doll of our planet, will be coming home from the space station.
The spacecraft was launched on the night of March 1-2 and spent several days docked to the space station. Crew Dragon continued to whirl through orbit and burned its thrusters four times to make a carefully choreographed, gradual descent.
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.
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The Crew Dragon re-entering the atmosphere on March 8. The demonstration mission - which carried no humans but a dummy covered in sensors - is the first of at least one more test that NASA will use to determine if the Dragon capsule passes the space agency's rigid safety standards. The friction with Earth's atmosphere generates intense heat, and just one little mistake in its design or manufacturing could have spelled disaster.
An unmanned capsule of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft splashes down into the Atlantic Ocean, after a short-term stay on the International Space Station, in this still image from video, in the Atlantic, about 200 miles off the Florida coast, U.S., March 8, 2019. Boeing is set to test their crewed vehicle in Spring this year.
It was the final hurdle for the six-day demo, a critical prelude to SpaceX's first flight with astronauts as early as summer.
The mission has been hitch-free thus far. That didn't happen, and the company proved the Crew Dragon is ready for the next step.
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Roscosmos, the state-owned space corporation of Russian Federation, and its Soyuz rockets have been the one and only ride available to NASA astronauts since the Space Shuttle program was shut down.
Leading up to the re-entry, Musk had said he was anxious about whether the spacecraft would end up in an uncontrollable spin. Following the shuttle program's end, NASA put its faith in the commercial sector, entrusting two companies, SpaceX and Boeing, to build its future space taxis.
"However, NASA and SpaceX still have work to do to validate the spacecraft's performance and prepare it to fly astronauts".
The nose cone of the Crew Dragon was closed once the burn completed, unlike the cargo version, which jettisons its own covering during launch. Following Saturday's launch, Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, said that he was "100 percent confident" crew would launch this year.
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