SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship leaves space station for autonomous trip home

SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship leaves space station for autonomous trip home

SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship leaves space station for autonomous trip home

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule will return to Earth after its six-day demonstration mission at the International Space Station.

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 Demo 1 was the first flight test for the Crew Dragon craft that is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

The Dragon capsule that flew this week is not the final version that will fly in future tests, but it is close. They still hoped that a crewed test flight could take place before the end of the year but did not commit to a specific schedule.

Three more crew members - Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch - are scheduled to arrive at the space station aboard a Russian Soyuz crew capsule next week, on March 14.

A recovery ship, called Go Searcher, waited at sea to use a large crane to haul the capsule out of the water. The craft reentered Earth's atmosphere and then deployed a set of parachutes to slow down and safely land in the ocean where a recovery vessel was waiting to meet it.

The demonstration mission, called Demo-1, is the first flight test of a space system designed for humans built and operated by a US commercial company through a public-private partnership. It returned home today after offloading about 400 pounds of supplies for the International Space station.

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While Dragon's crew member was a dummy named Ripley this time, the mission sets the stage for a manned flight, which will see two U.S. astronauts - one of them Behnken - book a return trip to the ISS sometime before the end of the year, according to NASA. Once there, the capsule will undergo processing at Kennedy Space Center for another important test, an in-flight abort mission to ensure that the spacecraft can quickly push itself away from the rocket in case of an emergency.

The last generation of United States spacecraft, the Space shuttles, landed like airplanes.

The Crew Dragon splashing down.

SpaceX employees cheered and applauded at company headquarters near Los Angeles when the Dragon's red and white parachutes popped open.

The goal for SpaceX and others competing in the new space race, such as Boeing with the CST-100 Starliner, is to perform manned missions to outer space for NASA and propel the government agency to spaceflight capabilities again. "Our NASA and SpaceX teams worked seamlessly not only in the lead-up to the flight but in how we managed the flight", said Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. "We want to make sure that everything is ideal".

Their vehicles-SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner-will be NASA's primary means of transporting astronauts for the foreseeable future, ending nearly a decade of reliance on Russia's space program to launch American astronauts. It's slated for Summer 2019, and will carry American astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

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