Published: Sat, March 09, 2019
Sci-tech | By Javier West

SpaceX: Crew Dragon's test flight in graphics

SpaceX: Crew Dragon's test flight in graphics

In this image taken from NASA Television, SpaceX's swanky new crew capsule undocks from the International Space Station Friday, March 8, 2019.

Assuming a detailed post-flight inspection and data analysis confirm the capsule's apparently problem-free performance, NASA will be a major step closer to launching two astronauts aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule this summer, the first flight of a US crew from American soil since the shuttle made its final flight in 2011.

The Atlantic Ocean landing is the first in almost 50 years for a capsule that was designed for humans, NASA says. Apollo 9 - which orbited Earth in preparation for the moon landings - splashed down near the Bahamas on March 13, 1969.

The flight is a milestone for Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as they attempt to end USA dependence on Russian Federation for astronaut shuttles to the space station. Their vehicles-SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner-will be NASA's primary means of transporting astronauts for the foreseeable future, ending nearly a decade of reliance on Russia's space program to launch American astronauts.

If all goes as planned - as was the case with the first half of the mission - SpaceX could conduct a crewed test flight as early as April. SpaceX is shooting for summer. Crew Dragon will serve as an astronaut taxi, ferrying people to and from the orbital space station. But the Dragon went through all the steps that will have to be executed when astronauts climb aboard the next spaceship, as early as this July. It carried approximately 400 pounds of equipment, food and other supplies the astronauts need in order to continue their work. Crew Dragon launched on March 2 from Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

The inaugural commercial crew test flight, Demo-1 mission, is uncrewed.

ISS Crew Member Earth Continues Work Aboard the Station 1
Earth making sure she is on schedule | Image credit NASA Anne McClain

But the bottom of the Crew Dragon is slightly asymmetrical, its ideal contours rendered imperfect by the four pairs of engines built around the base of the ship.

But after this week's SpaceX flight, if post-mission review determines the flight had no issues, we could see astronauts climb aboard the Crew Dragon by the end of the year. The craft's splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean is expected around 8:45 a.m. ET, after it re-enters Earth's atmosphere.

"I don't think we saw anything in the mission so far that would preclude us from having a crewed mission later this year", Stich said Friday.

Additional issues may turn up as a result of Demo-1's post-flight assessment, or during an upcoming test of the Crew Dragon's in-flight abort system.

Astronauts have not launched from Florida for eight years, and NASA is eager to end the drought and reduce its costly dependence on Russian Federation for space station trips. The educational stuffed toy will remain on the space station while it's ride returns to Earth.

Canadian space station astronaut David Saint-Jacques was the first to enter the Dragon capsule and the last to leave this week.

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