On Friday the Crew Dragon capsule will detach from the International Space Station (ISS) 400km above Earth and begin a fiery journey back through the atmosphere, ending in a splashdown 450km off the coast of Florida.
The undocking, descent from Earth orbit and water-landing are the final stages of the SpaceX Crew Dragon's first test flight.
Boeing won contracts totaling $4.82 billion to develop the CST-100 Starliner, a capsule that will launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. Crew Dragon will serve as an astronaut taxi, ferrying people to and from the orbital space station. The Crew Dragon is the first capsule made by a private company, as opposed to spaceships built by NASA, that is created to carry humans into space and been successfully launched into space. Astronauts closed the hatch to the spacecraft just before 1 p.m. Thursday.
"You actually see the light from the atmosphere, as it heats up the external portions of the space craft".
"Fifty years after humans landed on the moon for the first time, America has driven a golden spike on the trail to new space exploration feats through the work of our commercial partner SpaceX and all the talented and dedicated flight controllers at NASA and our worldwide partners", said Anne McClain, NASA flight engineer now stationed at the ISS, as the capsule drifted away. But the Dragon went through all the steps that will have to be executed when astronauts climb aboard the next spaceship, as early as this July.
An unmanned SpaceX capsule has successfully splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean after a short-term stay on the International Space Station (ISS).
Still, he added "hypersonic re-entry is probably my biggest concern". Although his team had run hundreds of simulations, the unusual shape of the spacecraft meant it might roll or spin as it dropped from space to sea.
If all goes according to plan, the Crew Dragon will splash-down in the Atlantic Ocean using four parachutes.
Earth making sure she is on schedule | Image credit NASA Anne McClain
"I don't think we saw really anything in the mission so far - we've got to do the data reviews - that would preclude us from having a crewed mission later this year", Stich said.
Astronauts have not launched from Florida for eight years, and NASA is eager to end the drought and reduce its costly dependence on Russian Federation for space station trips. Ideally, NASA would have its own vehicles that it could send to the space station whenever it needs to, and that's what SpaceX's Crew Dragon (and later Boeing's Starliner) will provide.
The spacecraft will bring back to Earth more than 300 pounds of science equipment, supplies and hardware.
That test is now scheduled for June.
Still more parachute tests are planned before the scheduled crew launch, in the hope both of refining the technology and easing industry and government jitters.
A small blue and green plush toy shaped like Earth - which SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk termed a zero-gravity indicator - was left behind on the space station.
NASA resumed talks with Russia's space agency Roscosmos in February seeking two additional Soyuz seats for 2020 to maintain a US presence on the space station amid delays in the commercial crew program.
On the Crew Dragon, he noted, "the windows will be down near our feet on this vehicle".
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