SpaceX's Crew Dragon Capsule Splashes Down in Atlantic Ocean

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

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SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule parachuted down to the Atlantic Ocean Friday morning, successfully capping the first test of a commercial spacecraft that will likely bring astronauts to the International Space Station - possibly in the next year. The capsule, which deployed its parachutes to land in the water, was safely retrieved by SpaceX's Go Searcher recovery ship.

A SpaceX rocket launched the 16-foot-tall capsule from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday. The past week's flight marked the first-ever Crew Dragon space trip, known as Demonstration Mission 1 or DM-1. Success will also mean that "Earthy", a plush anthropomorphic doll of our planet, will be coming home from the space station. The flight, called Demo-1, was launched on March 2nd and spent five days at the International Space Station (ISS).

The Commercial Crew Program is the end result of a series of NASA-funded industry competitions in the wake of the shuttle's retirement to develop a new American spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the space station.

The main goal of the Crew Dragon mission was to test whether the capsule can safely deliver astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

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The Crew Dragon splashing down. On Saturday, March 2, at 2:49 a.m. EST, one of the company's Falcon 9 rockets lit up the pre-dawn sky, lofting a Crew Dragon spacecraft created to carry humans-but carrying only a stuffed globe and a manikin named Ripley outfitted with a space suit and suite of sensors-to the International Space Station (ISS).

The nearly-week long journey culminated when the spacecraft disembarked from the station about 2.30am Friday, fired its engine to slow down, and barrelled through the thickening atmosphere on its fiery return to Earth.

The Crew Dragon's deorbit burn will be followed by a splashdown into the Atlantic Ocean, scheduled for approximately 8:45 a.m. EST Friday. It was a test and familiarization flight for the Crew Dragon. Following this initial mission, the Crew Dragon might be ready to take astronauts to space in a couple of months. The splashdown is the last act in what has been a successful first flight for the Crew Dragon.

The company, founded by celebrity entrepreneur Elon Musk, has so far shuttled only cargo to the ISS.

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On the Crew Dragon, he noted, "the windows will be down near our feet on this vehicle".

It marks the end of a highly successful and long-awaited debut of a crew-capable vehicle for the USA, almost eight years after the last Space Shuttle touched down.

Government officials still have safety concerns about both spacecrafts, according to a recent Reuters report and documents from NASA's safety advisory panel, all of which will need to be resolved before they can fly humans. Musk said, "That could potentially cause a roll instability on re-entry". But he said he thought it was "unlikely" since the company had run "simulations a thousand times".

To say that the Crew Dragon did well would be a huge understatement. NASA has to pay, of course, and the actual launch of each new group of crew members is largely out of their control.

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