SpaceX crew capsule departs station 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

SpaceX's swanky new crew capsule has returned to Earth, ending its first test flight with an old-fashioned splashdown.

A huge round of applause and cheers erupted at SpaceX mission control in California as the capsule hit the water.

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.

The craft did not carry a crew on this demonstration flight, which began on March 2 with a launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

At least until the first crewed Dragon makes an appearance to bring "Earthy" home. - The first human-rated commercial spacecraft to dock at the International Space Station departed early Friday morning from the orbiting laboratory. A dummy, lovingly known as Ripley and dressed in SpaceX's astronaut gear and a suite of sensors, was its lone crew member.

During reentry, Crew Dragon is subjected to absolutely incredible stresses. That didn't happen, and the company proved the Crew Dragon is ready for the next step.

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The SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean on Friday after more than six days in space, completing its demonstration mission for United States space agency NASA.

It's biggest challenge was yet to come: Atmospheric re-entry. 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. By 13:45 UTC the Crew Dragon was bobbing around in the ocean, awaiting collection by the recovery vessel "Go Searcher" stationed nearby. 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. Both SpaceX and Boeing have been hampered with delays - but 2019 could be the year they start flying crew. Eastern Friday, fired its engine to slow down and barreled through the thickening atmosphere on its fiery return to Earth.

A final key test on Crew Dragon's emergency abort system is scheduled for June. The company plans to send astronauts onboard the Crew Dragon as early as this summer.

Once aloft, the SpaceX craft traveled to the space station, whizzing around the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour, catching up early the next morning.

While the limelight has been squarely on SpaceX, Elon Musk's space venture is only one half of NASA's overall Commercial Crew ambitions. Launching from the top of an Atlas V rocket, the Starliner will undergo similar testing in preparation for its own manned missions to space in the coming year. SpaceX then conducted four departure burns to move the Crew Dragon away from the ISS.

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