SpaceX capsule set to splash down Friday after space station stop

NASA TV via AP

Elon Musk and his aerospace company SpaceX made history on Friday morning when its Dragon spacecraft splashed into the Atlantic Ocean after a successful five-day trip to the International Space Station. The capsule is expected at Port Canaveral on Saturday night.

On March 2, SpaceX launched the first test flight of its Crew Dragon spacecraft.

After hours of suspense, the Crew Dragon touched down in the Atlantic Ocean at 8.45am some 370km off the coast of the USA state of Florida. That completes its short mission to the ISS that put the module created to carry humans to space to test for the first time.

Dragon splashed into the Atlantic Ocean exactly on time, at 08:45 EST (13:45 UTC).

The seven-seat capsule brought its "crew" of one test dummy back to Earth in the same way that American astronauts returned to the planet in the Apollo era in the 1960s and 1970s, before the 1981-2011 Space Shuttle Program.

Boeing's Starliner crew capsule is poised to launch its maiden unmanned mission in April ahead of an August test flight carrying USA astronauts Michael Fincke, Chris Ferguson and Nicole Mann.

The capsule's splashdown was aided by SpaceX's recovery vessel "Go Searcher", a ship equipped to pluck it from amidst the roiling ocean waves and carry it back to shore.

The mission went off without a hitch and is set to revolutionise NASA's future missions. SpaceX then conducted four departure burns to move the Crew Dragon away from the ISS. Boeing is up next to test its Starliner capsule.

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The first crewed flight of the Dragon could occur as soon as July, although this target date is likely to slip into the summer as engineers work through the post-flight analysis.

Last week, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft proved the private space company is capable of safely launching and carrying astronauts from Earth to the International 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.

Despite Musk's concerns, Crew Dragon aced its fiery descent through the atmosphere and looked in excellent condition as crews prepared to haul it out of the water today.

The splashdown was the final test on this mission for Crew Dragon, during a flight test for a capsule that could become the first US craft to carry astronauts into space since the shuttle program was phased out in 2011. American astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques carried out air quality tests and inspections inside the capsule.

The star of the mission, officially known as Demo Mission-1 (DM-1), was an upgraded version of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. He found it "very slick" and called it business class.

NASA awarded the first contracts in 2014 to SpaceX and Boeing, now totalling about $8 billion.

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