SpaceX's Historic Crew Dragon Mission Successfully Ends As Capsule Lands Safely

At this point, we tend to take it for granted that SpaceX will stick its landings. However, the company's latest landing is one for the books. SpaceX's unmanned Crew Dragon capsule landed off the coast Florida after a trip to the International Space Station. This was the first time in fifty years that an astronaut capsule landed in the Atlantic Ocean and SpaceX’s first orbital test mission.

The Crew Dragon capsule successfully detached from the International Space Station (ISS) at 2:30 am EST. It burned its thrusters several times before its final descent. The capsule deployed several parachutes before successfully landing 200 miles off of the coast of Florida at 8:45am EST. SpaceX’s recovery vessel "Go Searcher" was able to retrieve the capsule. According to Benjamin Reed, SpaceX’s director of crew mission management, “Everything happened just perfectly, right on time the way that we expected it to.”

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The Crew Dragon capsule landing-- Image from NASA

The Crew Dragon capsule was launched on March 2nd from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida and spent five days at the ISS. The capsule was unmanned, although it did carry a test dummy named “Ripley”. The capsule also brought back 330 pounds of experiment results from the ISS. 

Space X’s latest mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz rockets ever since the American space shuttle program was retired on in July 2011. However, these rockets are expensive and inconvenient. NASA signed commercial crew contracts with both SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 and their goals are to build American spaceships that can send astronauts into space.

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Falcon 9 launch on March 2nd, 2019-- Image from SpaceX

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine remarked, “These are all capabilities that are leading to a day where we are launching American astronauts from American rockets on American soil...this is an amazing achievement in the history of the United States of America.”

SpaceX’s first crewed flight could launch as early as July. Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will be the first astronauts to launch from American soil in eight years. Boeing is expected to test their first flight in April and may send astronauts into space as early as August 2019.