SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule splashes down in Atlantic Ocean

Katie Ramirez
March 9, 2019

The unpiloted Crew Dragon capsule, built by Hawthorne-based SpaceX as a precursor to restart US astronaut launches, entered the earth's atmosphere Friday morning and then successfully splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, capping off a successful eight-day mission. This unmanned test flight ferried supplies to the station. To complete the docking, both the station and Crew Dragon's adapters used the new global docking standard.

The Atlantic Ocean landing is the first in almost 50 years for a capsule that was designed for humans, NASA says. With that - the first water landing in the Atlantic since Apollo 9 in 1969 - SpaceX moved one step closer to sending humans into orbit. Re-entry began around 8:30 a.m., followed by the parachute-assisted splashdown some 15 minutes later.

The capsule will de-orbit and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean at 8:45 a.m.

In this image taken from NASA Television, SpaceX's swanky new crew capsule, above, takes off after undocking from the International Space Station, right, Friday, March 8, 2019.

The reusability of SpaceX's Dragon is one of its selling points, and is also the reason Friday morning's splashdown happened in the Atlantic Ocean, rather than the calmer and bigger Pacific.

"We have a lovely toasted marshmallow sitting in the nest of our recovery ship", said SpaceX Program Reliability Engineer Kate Tice.

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Launched on March 2 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Dragon docked at ISS the following day before successfully undocking Friday some 250 miles over Sudan. Boeing is up next to test its Starliner capsule.

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

The Crew Dragon never loses its built-in escape rockets, which eliminates that danger and simplifies the system overall.

"If you just think about the enormity of this flight and all of the prep that went into it - getting the pad refurbished, getting the flight control room set up, getting the vehicle built, getting the Falcon 9 ready, all of the analysis and mission support that went into it - it's just been a tremendous job". The capsule also brought back 330 pounds of experiment results from the ISS.

"We need to make sure that [Dragon] can safely go rendezvous and dock with the space station, and undock safely, and not pose a hazard to the International Space Station", Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said during the pre-launch briefing. NASA astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques opened the hatch Sunday becoming the first to enter the new vehicle in space.

The test mission was a crucial milestone in the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Commercial Crew Program ahead of SpaceX's first crewed test flight slated to launch in July with U.S. astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. SpaceX sent a very special crew member aboard its first test flight, a mannequin named Ripley.

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