MIAMI – The unmanned Crew Dragon SpaceX capsule, the aim of which is to demonstrate the firm’s ability to send modules carrying astronauts into space, returned successfully on Friday to Earth after a test flight to the International Space Station.
The capsule, an improved version of the Dragon cargo capsule, parachuted easily into the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast at 8:45 am.
Television images showed the moment of touchdown at sea, with four parachutes deployed, and several recovery vessels approaching the floating capsule.
SpaceX scientists hailed the successful at-sea landing with whistles and cheers at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“This really is an American achievement that spans many generations of NASA administrators and over a decade of work by the NASA team,” NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said after the Crew Dragon splashed down.
The mission and all the associated work is “leading to a day where we are launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” Bridenstine said, adding that eventually the intention is to travel to Mars.
SpaceX is moving closer to the landmark launching of the first commercial manned flights into space after the Crew Dragon was sent into orbit earlier this month to rendezvous with the ISS.
The capsule was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off on March 2 from launch pad 39A at Cape Canaveral carrying 180 kilograms of supplies for the astronauts currently aboard the ISS, and it docked with the orbital platform the next day.
The reusable parts of the Falcon rocket were successfully recovered on March 2.
The so-called Demo Mission-1 (DM-1) was an uncrewed test flight aimed at showing SpaceX’s ability to safely send space modules to and from the ISS.
SpaceX was founded by entrepreneur and mogul Elon Musk.
The SpaceX flight was made with the cooperation of NASA and carried within the Crew Dragon module a life-size test dummy outfitted with a spacesuit and named “Ripley,” the same name as the female protagonist in the iconic 1979 space-horror film “Alien.”
Crew Dragon remained docked with the ISS for five days before beginning its return journey to Earth.
If all proceeds as planned, in April SpaceX will conduct another flight to test an emergency system and, a few months later, probably in July, it will – for the first time – ferry two NASA astronauts to the ISS, where they will live and work for two weeks.