Sci-tech

Elon Musk, SpaceX complete historic test flight to International Space Station

Elon Musk, SpaceX complete historic test flight to International Space Station

After a six-day mission in orbit, SpaceX's Dragon capsule returned to Earth on Friday morning and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. The mission began March 2, when the Crew Dragon launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and racked up a number of "firsts" in less than a week.

The main goal of the Crew Dragon mission was to test whether the capsule can safely deliver astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The capsule is SpaceX's first that is created to carry humans.

The Crew Dragon made history last week when SpaceX launched the first spacecraft under NASA's commercial crew program.

While the space world was busy congratulating SpaceX and Nasa last Saturday, Roskomos tweeted only the following day, praising the USA space agency (not SpaceX) but insisting the "safety of flights should be irreproachable", a pointed reference to technical objections Russians had raised on Dragon's approach procedure towards the ISS.

SpaceX has been delivering goods to the ISS for several years now with its cargo version of the spacecraft.

The Crew Dragon splashing down. No humans were aboard, when the Dragon unhooked itself at 11:31 p.m. PT Thursday and backed away from its port on the station's USA -built Harmony module, 250 miles above the planet.

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

The odd shape of the Crew Dragon is due to an onboard emergency escape system-a critical feature to ensure the safety of future astronauts during launch. 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". Now it's clear that SpaceX is comfortably in the lead, and NASA expects manned missions using Crew Dragon to commence sooner rather than later. The flight, called Demo-1, was launched on March 2nd and spent five days at the International Space Station (ISS). Thanks to a camera under Crew Dragon's open nosecone, thruster pulses were visible in the darkness-a rare sight to see for a spacecraft returning to Earth.

The capsule will prepare itself for landing with a deorbit burn before a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. Soon, if all goes as planned, SpaceX and Boeing will compete for those contracts and launch the manned-missions from US soil. The parachute system that flew on this test flight was not entirely the same as the one that will be used for the crew flight, and neither were avionics and life support entirely finalized.

Last Sunday, Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques was the first to enter the Dragon when it arrived and the last to leave.

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

In so doing, NASA hopes to turn over the task of "routine" transportation to low-Earth orbit to the private sector, freeing up government resources for deep space exploration - a return to the moon and eventual flights to Mars.

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