Tuesday, April 2nd 2019, 3:05 pm - SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft splashed down on Friday morning, successfully completing its inaugural test flight to the International Space Station.
With the completion of this first full test of SpaceX's crew-rated spacecraft, the private company is now one step closer to launching astronauts from U.S. soil.
The Crew Dragon lifted off on its inaugural, uncrewed flight - named Demo-1 - at exactly 2:49 a.m. ET, on Saturday, March 2.
Watch the launch again, below.
Early in the morning on Sunday, March 3, at 5:51 a.m. ET, the spacecraft successfully docked with the International Space Station, in the first autonomous docking maneuver performed by a SpaceX craft. This is also the first use the International Docking Adapter, since NASA astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins installed it, during a spacewalk back on August 19, 2016.
On Friday morning, after spending the past five days attached to the space station, Crew Dragon autonomously separated from it, moved away under its own power and control, and then returned to Earth, descending for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, on schedule, at 8:45 a.m. ET, March 8, 2019.
"We were all very excited to see re-entry, parachute and drogue deploy, main deploy, splashdown – everything happened just perfectly. It was right on time, the way that we expected it to be. It was beautiful," said Benji Reed, director of crew mission management at SpaceX, according to NASA.
Rather than a powered descent, as was originally teased in SpaceX's flight animations, nearly 4 years ago, the Crew Dragon floated down to Earth on parachutes.
The Crew Dragon capsule floats above the Atlantic Ocean, dangling at the end of its four main parachutes, on the morning of Friday, March 8, 2019. Credit: NASA TV/SpaceX
This design change was made due to problems with the feasibility of the capsule descending on rockets, although the Draco rockets are in place to be used in the event of an emergency abort during launch.
NOT JUST ANOTHER SPACE LAUNCH
SpaceX's launches have become almost routine.
We watch the Falcon 9 go up. We see the spacecraft atop the rocket continue on its merry way to the Space Station, or into near-Earth or geosynchronous orbit. The Falcon 9 first stage comes back down to Earth for a landing - either on a droneship at sea, or just south of where it lifted off from, at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Rinse, and repeat.
It's all very spectacular to watch, of course, and it's amazing to see this rocket come down and stick the landing, nearly every single time. (Even the failures are pretty spectacular, in their own right!)
While, on the surface, Saturday morning's launch appears quite similar to previous Dragon capsule flights to the International Space Station, underneath there is a very important distinction.
This Dragon is not a cargo ship, packed from engines to airlock with supplies and equipment for the station crew. Instead, the spacious, modern interior of this spaceship is actually outfitted for transporting human crew and passengers!
Take a tour of the inside of the Crew Dragon spacecraft!