SpaceX Crew Dragon heads home from ISS for Atlantic splashdown

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

ISS Crew Member Earth Continues Work Aboard the Station

An unmanned capsule from Elon Musk's SpaceX was due to return to earth on Friday after a short-term stay on the International Space Station, capping the first orbital test mission in NASA's long-delayed quest to resume human space flight from US soil later this year. The spacecraft undocked from the ISS today at 02:32 EST (07:32 UTC) and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean nearly 6 hours later at 08:45 EST. Sure, the Crew Dragon hadn't gone all the way to the ISS before, and it was definitely an exciting moment, but the safe reentry of the vehicle was always going to be the most hard part of the mission.

The 16-foot tall (4.9 meter) capsule docked at the space station on Sunday (March 3) after lifting off a day earlier from Florida's Kennedy Space Center atop a Falcon 9 rocket, carrying a test dummy nicknamed Ripley. 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 US -built Harmony module, 250 miles above the planet. With a tiny thruster burn at 02:32 EST, Dragon physically backed away from the station's forward docking port, as the station passed over Sudan.

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 past week's flight marked the first-ever Crew Dragon space trip, known as Demonstration Mission 1 or DM-1. The capsule will undock from the International Space Station at 2:31 a.m. EST.

Five hours later, Dragon had moved into an orbit lower than the ISS.

The Crew Dragon re-entering the atmosphere on March 8.

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During reentry, Crew Dragon is subjected to absolutely incredible stresses. The Air Force recently announced it was reviewing the certifications it had granted SpaceX that allow to launch national security payloads.

The burn itself kicked off on time, at 12:53 UTC, shaving a critical few hundred miles an hour off the Crew Dragon's speed ahead of a splashdown, almost 50 years to the day since Apollo 9 returned to Earth. SpaceX crews are now retrieving the capsule for transport back to Florida.

What made the reentry so ideal was that SpaceX gave a time of 8:45 a.m. EST as an estimate for when the vehicle would be back on the surface.

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McClain said "it won't be long" before astronauts start riding SpaceX's Crew Dragon as well as Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, another space taxi that's being developed for NASA's use.

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