After spending a week hanging out at the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft has returned to Earth and landed safely in the ocean off the Florida coast. The craft has now completed its test flight and is ready to start taking astronauts into space.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon undocked from the ISS at 2:32 a.m. ET on Friday, March 8, then headed back to Earth by completing a maneuver called a “deorbit burn” in which the craft’s engines were fired to propel it back into the Earth’s atmosphere. Once the craft was within the atmosphere, it deployed its four parachutes which slowed its reentry speed — an image which was captured in the video above and described on NASA TV as a “gorgeous shot of four healthy parachutes.”
The craft and its parachutes headed toward the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida and landed in what is called a “splashdown.” The splashdown occurred at 8:45 a.m., right on schedule, as the craft gently bobbed on the surface of the ocean. Two “fast-approach” boats were on hand in the vicinity, a few nautical miles away from the site, and they headed straight for the capsule the moment it splashed down to begin the recovery process.
The mission was uncrewed, so there were no astronauts on board to worry about. But there was a passenger in the form of a dummy called Ripley, named after the heroine of the Alien films. This was in some ways the most challenging part of the mission, as the Crew Dragon needed to show that it could land safely without damaging any of the cargo (and the potential people) on board. During re-entry, the craft experienced very high temperatures due to friction with the atmosphere and there was concern that it would roll which would be hazardous for those onboard, but it maintained a straight heading and landed safely.
This was the final stage in what was called the Demonstration-1 or DM-1 mission, showing that the craft was safe for humans to travel aboard. Now that this successful test flight has been completed, SpaceX has demonstrated that the craft is ready to start taking passengers to and from the ISS, possibly even as early as this summer.
- Prepare for liftoff: Here are all the important upcoming SpaceX rocket launches
- Boeing’s astronaut taxi is a go, will launch a test flight next month
- Watch an ISS astronaut enter the SpaceX crew capsule for the first time
- SpaceX crew capsule will carry a mannequin on its first trip to space station
- Space tourism company Virgin Galactic sends passenger into space for first time