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SpaceX capsule on big mission to return to Earth

13 March 2019

"Fifty years after humans landed on the moon for the first time, America has driven a golden spike on the trail to new space exploration feats through the work of our commercial partner SpaceX and all the talented and dedicated flight controllers at NASA and our global partners", said Anne McClain, NASA flight engineer now stationed at the ISS, as the capsule drifted away.

"Today's successful splashdown of the SpaceX Demo-1 Crew Dragon capsule after its mission to International Space Station marked another milestone in a new era of human spaceflight", said NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine.

It marks the first time in 50 years that a capsule designed for astronauts returned from space by plopping into the Atlantic.

This mission took place over the course of a day short of a week. Success will also mean that "Earthy", a plush anthropomorphic doll of our planet, will be coming home from the space station.

Crew Dragon is coming back to Earth: What to know

The next date for NASA's second crew capsule demonstration, a mission dubbed Demo-2, is undetermined, but SpaceX has the launch listed as a future mission on its website.

Falcon 9 launched Saturday before dawn with the Crew Dragon capsule, created to carry up to seven astronauts, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center launch complex 39A. The capsule even contained a human-sized test dummy aptly named Ripley of Alien fame.

It was only about a week ago that SpaceX launched the Crew Dragon, the company's first crew-capable spacecraft, towards the International Space Station.

The crew of the GO Searcher, a SpaceX ship rigged to recover returning crew capsules, planned to haul the spacecraft aboard and return it to Port Canaveral for detailed post-flight inspections.

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"For the first time, we've gotten to see an end-to-end test, and so now we've brought together the people, the hardware and all the processes and procedures, and we've gotten to see how they all work together, and that's very important as we move toward putting people onboard", said NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, who will crew SpaceX's first operational mission to the space station following Demo-2. But this test flight's success, along with its data, should allow SpaceX and NASA to close out those systems in the coming months.

"We need to make sure that [Dragon] can safely go rendezvous and dock with the space station, and undock safely, and not pose a hazard to the International Space Station", Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said during the pre-launch briefing.

The flight was a crucial test of the new spacecraft, a seven-passenger vehicle that SpaceX has been developing for the past five years.

The space station's three-member crew greeted Crew Dragon upon its arrival.

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The undocking process was broadcast online by the USA space agency.

Elon Musk wants this test mission to prove the Crew Dragon's asymmetrical shape and cutting-edge parachute system can survive the perilous plunge through Earth's atmosphere, while protecting its cargo.

The splashdown is the final test for Crew Dragon, which has so far been successful in the flight test of the capsule that could become the first US craft to carry astronauts since the space shuttle program was phased out in 2011. And the first crewed mission, which will carry astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, is slated for July, according to NASA's most recent schedule.

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SpaceX capsule on big mission to return to Earth