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SpaceX: Crew Dragon's test flight in graphics

09 March 2019

A plume of four large, additional parachutes slowed the capsule's drift through the air and it splash down in the Atlantic Ocean around 8:45 am ET.

The astronauts have begun procedures ahead of Crew Dragon's undocking at 2:31 a.m. Friday. Six hours later, the capsule carrying a test dummy plopped into the Atlantic off the Florida coast. The last such incident: the Apollo 9 splashdown on March 13, 1969.

After the program was retired, the USA government, under then president Barack Obama, turned toward SpaceX and Boeing to develop a new way to ferry its crews, paying the firms for their services.

The next date for NASA's second crew capsule demonstration, a mission dubbed Demo-2, is undetermined, but SpaceX has the launch listed as a future mission on its website.

The successful test and splashdown is "an fantastic achievement in American history", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who called the SpaceX flight the "dawning of a new era in American human space flight". The landing technique is unique to SpaceX, as both Russia's veteran Soyuz capsule and Boeing's forthcoming Starliner are created to land on terra firma rather than at sea. But that tower had to be jettisoned before the spacecraft reached orbit - before the spacecraft even separated from the rocket, in fact - briefly leaving the crew with no escape system at all if something went wrong. At a pre-launch briefing, SpaceX Vice President of Build and Flight Reliability Hans Koenigsmann said that the company is still in the final stages of development on Crew Dragon's internal controls. "It won't be long before our astronaut colleagues are aboard Crew Dragon and Boeing's Starliner vehicles, and we can't wait".

What now: Recovery crews are in place and Crew Dragon will be loaded onto the recovery ship.

SpaceX launched the private spacecraft on March 2 atop a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "And then we can use the tax-payer resources that are bestowed upon us to do exploration, to go further, to go back to the Moon sustainably", said Nasa chief Jim Bridenstine.

If all goes according to plan, it will wrap up the first complete test mission of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which is expected to carry its first astronauts into orbit by the middle of this year. NASA astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques opened the hatch Sunday becoming the first to enter the new vehicle in space.

"You see the light from the atmosphere as it heats up", astronaut Bob Behnken said of re-entry. In recent years, NASA and SpaceX have conducted 18 airplane drop tests of dummy Dragons with functioning chutes, and grew increasingly convinced of the system's reliability. The splashdown is the last act in what has been a successful first flight for the Crew Dragon. He found the capsule "very slick" and called it business class. NASA awarded the first contracts in 2014 to SpaceX and Boeing, now totaling about $8 billion. It returned home today after offloading about 400 pounds of supplies for the International Space station.

SpaceX: Crew Dragon's test flight in graphics