On Friday the Crew Dragon capsule will detach from the International Space Station (ISS) 400km above Earth and begin a fiery journey back through the atmosphere, ending in a splashdown 450km off the coast of Florida. The ship is also equipped with medical quarters and a helicopter pad so that, when crew is involved, it's ready for emergencies. But this test flight's success, along with its data, should allow SpaceX and NASA to close out those systems in the coming months. It then trailed the ISS for 24 hours before achieving a landmark docking via the station's Harmony module, and special docking adapter, on March 3. Photo: NASA/Norah MoranCrew Dragon spacecraft on it's way back to Earth after undocking from the International Space Station at 2:32 am EST on 8 March 2019.
The test mission was a crucial milestone in the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Commercial Crew Program ahead of SpaceX's first crewed test flight slated to launch in July with U.S. astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.
While the limelight has been squarely on SpaceX, Elon Musk's space venture is only one half of NASA's overall Commercial Crew ambitions.
American space station astronauts have been carried to space by Russian rockets since the US space agency NASA halted its shuttle program eight years ago. After Musk smoked marijuana during a podcast appearance, NASA announced it was conducting a safety review of SpaceX and Boeing.
Despite the distractions, Friday's landing appeared to be another triumph for SpaceX, and validation of years of work.More news: New Blood Test May Make Screening for Colorectal Cancer Easier
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Crew Dragon also took a cargo of around 400 pounds into orbit.
At 13:33 UTC the Crew Dragon reached Entry Interface, the point when the spacecraft re-enters the atmosphere.
Separately, Boeing is scheduled to carry out an unmanned demo mission in April of its Starliner capsule.
The Demo-1 mission now complete, SpaceX and NASA will carefully analyse the capsule to assess its performance, particularly to see how it may have been affected by the launch and re-entry. Even though the Crew Dragon didn't carry any real astronauts, Ripley was joined by a plush Earth toy called "Little Earth, " which was a fun surprise for the ISS crew and everyone watching the mission. NASA's first crewed flight of Crew Dragon is expected to come sometime this summer.
During a video interview with reporters beamed to Earth on Thursday, Saint-Jacques said it looked "like a business class spacecraft". "We want to make sure that everything is ideal".
The space station's three-member crew greeted the capsule last Sunday, with USA astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques entering Crew Dragon's cabin to carry out air quality tests and inspections.