SpaceX crew capsule Dragon heads back to Earth from space station

Katie Ramirez
March 8, 2019

The capsule will prepare itself for landing with a deorbit burn before a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft disembarked from the International Space Station early Friday, making a journey toward Earth the company hopes will end with a successful splashdown in the Atlantic ocean. Eastern within sight of SpaceX recovery ships.

The spacecraft was launched on the night of March 1-2 and spent several days docked to the space station.

The hatch of the capsule, which did not have a crew aboard, closed on Thursday at 12:39 p.m. EST.

Crew Dragon also aced a key NASA review ahead of launch, and the space agency hasn't reported any issues with the mission thus far.

"We measure the responses on the human body, obviously, and measure the environment", SpaceX Vice President of Mission Assurance Koenigsmann said before the launch.

The adorable interactions between the ISS crew and the toy began when NASA astronaut Anne McClain included the plush Earth toy in the welcoming ceremony of the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

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"We want to take a moment to recognize this milestone accomplishment that marks the inaugural mission of the commercial crew program", she said.

In 2014, NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to develop spacecraft to launch US astronauts.

Now, SpaceX and Crew Dragon must demonstrate their ability to safely shepherd astronauts back to Earth.

NASA retired its own space shuttle in 2011 that could fly astronauts.

Should that mission go well, the next flight of the Crew Dragon will include humans.

A spacesuit-wearing, sensor-laden mannequin nicknamed Ripley (in honor of Sigourney Weaver's character in the "Alien" sci-fi movies) rode in one of the Dragon's seats, to document what living, breathing astronauts would hear and feel. It was carrying about 400 pounds of supplies for the ISS and a space-suited dummy named Ripley, which is "fitted with sensors around the head, neck and spine to record everything an astronaut would experience throughout the mission". When the capsule returns, it will bring back a trove of scientific samples from research projects, along with other equipment. But the plush toy, nicknamed Li'l Earthie, is staying behind.

There are now three astronauts on board the space station: Anne C. McClain from Spokane, Washington; station commander Oleg Kononenko from Russian; and David Saint-Jacques from Canada. I think it's unlikely; we've run simulations a thousand times.

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