SpaceX's Crew Dragon Capsule Splashes Down in Atlantic Ocean

An image taken from NASA Television shows SpaceX's Dragon Crew capsule, above, moving away from the International Space Station on Friday, heading for a splashdown on Earth.

After a five-day stay at the space station, the Crew Dragon spacecraft undocked and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean at 8:45 a.m. EST on Friday, March 8.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft opens its nose cone before docking with the International Space Station on March 3.

"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.

NASA astronauts have been stuck riding Russian rockets since space shuttles retired eight years ago. Apollo 9 - which orbited Earth in preparation for the moon landings - splashed down near the Bahamas on March 13, 1969. Since 2011, NASA had been using Russian Soyuz missions to transport astronauts back and forth to the ISS, at the cost of approximately $80m per astronaut.

It represents the first private space mission to the ISS, as well as the first time a space vessel capable of carrying people was launched by the United States in eight years.

What's at stake: While NASA hasn't reported any issues for the first part of Crew Dragon's test flight but the spacecraft must also do well through the descent.

The Crew Dragon splashing down. It was carrying about 400 pounds of supplies for the ISS and a space-suited dummy named Ripley, which is "fitted with sensors around the head, neck and spine to record everything an astronaut would experience throughout the mission".

A SpaceX rocket launched the 16-foot-tall capsule from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday.

The flight, whose only passenger was a test dummy called Ripley, was a test ahead of a mission with a crew on board.

In June, the Crew Dragon will have to conduct an emergency abort system test, which will ensure that this feature is good to go before SpaceX sends a human crew to the ISS.

This week's flight wasn't the first time that a SpaceX spacecraft has visited the ISS, but it is the first time that one of its capsules docked itself with the orbital outpost.

To say that the Crew Dragon did well would be a huge understatement.

"We want to take a moment to recognize this milestone accomplishment that marks the inaugural mission of the commercial crew program", she said. Boeing is set to test their crewed vehicle in Spring this year. After five days docked at the Station, Crew Dragon disembarked and returned to Earth.

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.

  • Joe Gonzales