SpaceX Crew Dragon returns from ISS to Earth

ISS crew member and plush toy Earth continues work aboard the station

Earth hitting the treadmill with NASA astronaut Anne Mc Clain | Image credit NASA Anne McClain

Cheers rang out at SpaceX headquarters as Crew Dragon's parachutes deployed Friday morning, and then again as the ship splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, shown here.

The Crew Dragon capsule is heading back to Earth after spending a week docked at the ISS. But if all goes well, the next flight will see two U.S. astronauts book a return trip to the ISS, sometime before the end of the year, according to NASA. Apollo 9 splashed down near the Bahamas on March 13, 1969.

Roscosmos, the state-owned space corporation of Russian Federation, and its Soyuz rockets have been the one and only ride available to NASA astronauts since the Space Shuttle program was shut down.

With Demo-1 in the books, SpaceX could be sending another crewed mission to space as soon as summer: The Crew Dragon, which is equipped with a life support system, touch-screen controls, emergency-escape thrusters, seats, windows, and other astronaut-related equipment, seems to have checked off all the safety requirements for sending cosmonauts to the ISS in the near future. The splashdown is the last act in what has been a successful first flight for the Crew Dragon.

For now, SpaceX wins the day - and continue to forge a path between the United States and the International Space Station.

The Crew Dragon splashing down. It remained docked with the station until Thursday, at which point the hatch was closed and locked and the capsule was readied for its return. The astronauts have been showing the Earth buddy around the space station.

Crew Dragon's near-perfect flight - an on-time launch, a flawless docking, and six days of operating in the punishing environment of space - did not guarantee a ideal reentry. But now, SpaceX has taken a major leap forward and is poised to fly its first test mission with two Nasa astronauts on board later this year.

ISS Crew Member Earth Continues Work Aboard the Station 1
Earth making sure she is on schedule | Image credit NASA Anne McClain

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

After landing in the ocean, SpaceX boated out to the capsule, and now plans to retrieve the spacecraft, lift it onto its recovery ship, and return to the Kennedy Space Center where the company houses rockets in a 54,000-square-foot hangar. And the first crewed mission, which will carry astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, is slated for July, according to NASA's most recent schedule.

The re-entry is one of the biggest tests of the Dragon and of SpaceX, the company founded by Musk in 2002 with the ultimate goal of flying humans to Earth's orbit and beyond.

The capsule, which reached the ISS on Sunday, undocked from the station at 0732 UTC Friday while over Sudan. American astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques carried out air quality tests and inspections inside the capsule. Boeing is set to test their crewed vehicle in Spring this year.

"The vehicle really did better than we expected", Steve Stich, deputy Commercial Crew program manager for NASA, said shortly after the landing.

A small blue and green plush toy shaped like Earth - which SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk termed a zero-gravity indicator - was left behind on the space station.

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