Published: Sat, March 09, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

SpaceX Crew Dragon splashes down after historic mission

SpaceX Crew Dragon splashes down after historic mission

Canadian space station astronaut David Saint-Jacques was the first to enter the Dragon capsule and the last to leave this week.

In so doing, NASA hopes to turn over the task of "routine" transportation to low-Earth orbit to the private sector, freeing up government resources for deep space exploration - a return to the moon and eventual flights to Mars.

She added that she and the rest of the panel were pleased that NASA was taking steps, such as buying two additional Soyuz seats from Roscosmos, to alleviate any perceived schedule pressure on the commercial crew program.

A SpaceX Dragon Capsule made a successful, and historic, return to Earth Friday morning.

NASA selected SpaceX and Boeing to design and build crew-carrying spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the space station - replacements for the Space Shuttle, which NASA retired in 2011. Instead, it has paid Russian Federation for rides to the space station at an increasing price tag that now tops US$80 million (NZ$118m). SpaceX plans to launch its first crewed test flight in July with American astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.

The next best thing to a person was aboard the Crew Dragon however: a full-sized dummy in a SpaceX spacesuit - named Ripley, after Sigourney Weaver's character in the Alien series - outfitted with sensors to record and report all of the physical experiences of the flight, including the hard slap as the bottom of the spacecraft hit the water.

"This is an unbelievable achievement in American history", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said on NASA TV, per the New York Times.

After launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket and traveling to the International Space Station (ISS) earlier this week, the spacecraft has now returned to Earth.

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Once aloft, the SpaceX craft travelled to the space station, whizzing around the Earth at 28,163kmh, catching up early the next morning.

This will definitely be welcome news for NASA, which has been eagerly awaiting the delivery of a crew-capable vehicle that it can use whenever it needs to.

"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. 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.

The forces exerted on the capsule as it blazed a trail through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds had SpaceX CEO Elon Musk concerned during the week.

Musk and his companies have been under scrutiny lately.

Musk, also co-founder of electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc., will be watching closely. More recently, the SEC claimed he violated the terms of the settlement, which require an attorney to review tweets that could affect Tesla's stock price. Success is the norm for SpaceX, it seems. "I want to once again congratulate the NASA and SpaceX teams on an incredible week".

Leading up to the re-entry, Musk had said he was anxious about whether the spacecraft would end up in an uncontrollable spin.

After dropping behind and below the lab, the Crew Dragon adjusted its orbit and jettisoned its empty trunk section, an unpressurized cargo compartment behind the crew compartment, to set the stage for entry.

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