SpaceX Crew Dragon success heralds a new era for NASA spaceflight

This still image taken from NASA TV shows SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft safely aboard the company's recovery vessel following splashdown

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean on Friday after undocking from the International Space Station, appearing to successfully complete the first mission of the vehicle the company created to fly humans.

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

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. After five days docked at the Station, Crew Dragon disembarked and returned to Earth. This extra safety precaution means the capsule has a more asymmetrical shape than the Cargo Dragon ship, which has more of a cone shape and has completed 16 missions to the space station. Boeing received $4.2 billion to build the CST-100 spacecraft and SpaceX received $2.6 billion to build its Dragon V2 spacecraft, or Crew Dragon.

But this all ended with the introduction of the Space Shuttle program in the 1980s.

An unmanned capsule of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is seen shortly after splashing down into the Atlantic Ocean as SpaceX recovery teams works on it, in this still image from video from NASA Commercial Crew, in the Atlantic, about 200 miles off the Florida coast, U.S., March 8, 2019.

The astronauts have begun procedures ahead of Crew Dragon's undocking at 2:31 a.m. Friday.

Completing the test mission on Friday brought SpaceX's Crew Dragon one step closer to flying humans - and ending the United States' years-long reliance on Russian Federation to fly astronauts to and from the ISS.

But perhaps the most daring part of the mission was the Dragon's final task: reentering Earth's atmosphere.

The capsule, which launched last Saturday, parachuted down into the Atlantic Ocean near Port Canaveral around 8:45 a.m.

Boeing plans to launch its Starliner capsule without a crew as early as next month and with astronauts possibly in August. The splashdown is the last act in what has been a successful first flight for the Crew Dragon. As a result, when SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted a picture of its inclusion, the company was inundated with orders completely depleting their available stock.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon is an upgraded version of the robotic cargo-carrying Dragon that has been ferrying payloads to and from the space station since 2012, a year after NASA retired its space shuttle fleet.

Whether you're new to the spacecraft or an expert, The Planetary Society's Crew Dragon mission page is your go-to resource guide. But he said he thought it was "unlikely" since the company had run "simulations a thousand times".

Next up is the first crewed flight for the Crew Dragon. NASA has to pay, of course, and the actual launch of each new group of crew members is largely out of their control.

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