The Dragon has returned to Earth.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule parachuted down to the Atlantic Ocean Friday morning, successfully capping the first test of a commercial spacecraft that will likely bring astronauts to the International Space Station — possibly in the next year.
The Crew Dragon capsule gently splashed down off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida at 8:45 a.m. ET after spending five days docked to the space station. The demonstration mission — which carried no humans but a dummy covered in sensors — is the first of at least one more test that NASA will use to determine if the Dragon capsule passes the space agency’s rigid safety standards.
But it’s a big first step.
After the capsule reached the space station last Sunday morning, NASA astronaut Anne McClain recognized the event on a live webcast: “We knew how significant it was and how important it was, really for the whole history of spaceflight. I’ve said it before: It is a new era,” said McClain.
Indeed it is. Only NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos have ever delivered astronauts to the space station. Now, commercial providers — specifically SpaceX and Boeing — are set to fulfill the role, while offering considerably cheaper seats ($58 million per seat rather than $81 million).
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.
SpaceX accomplished three main objectives during this test mission, called Demo-1: A takeoff, space station docking, and landing — though NASA will certainly scrutinize the spacecraft’s performance, in part by assessing how the SpaceX test dummy, nicknamed Ripley, experienced the high-speed flights.
As Dragon parachuted down to Earth, it deployed four parachutes, which SpaceX commentators called “healthy parachutes.”
Still, NASA expects that there will be kinks to work out.
“I’m very comfortable with where we’re headed with this flight. I fully expect we’re going to learn something on this flight. I guarantee you everything will not work exactly right. And that’s cool,” Bill Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator for NASA’s human spaceflight program, said during a briefing before the launch, The Washington Post reports.
The next date for NASA’s second crew capsule demonstration, a mission dubbed Demo-2, is undetermined, but SpaceX has the launch listed as a future mission on its website.