Elon Musk's SpaceX capsule splashes down off Florida coast

SpaceX's Dragon capsule carrying a test dummy splashes down into the Atlantic ocean off the Florida coast

Photo: NASA/Norah MoranCrew Dragon spacecraft on it's way back to Earth after undocking from the International Space Station at 2:32 am EST on 8 March 2019.

Completing the test mission on Friday brought SpaceX's Crew Dragon one step closer to flying humans - and ending the United States' years-long reliance on Russian Federation to fly astronauts to and from the ISS. Eastern March 8, about six hours before its splashdown in the Atlantic.

It was the first time in 50 years that a capsule designed for astronauts returned from space by landing in the Atlantic Ocean. Apollo 9 - which orbited Earth in preparation for the moon landings - splashed down near the Bahamas on March 13, 1969.

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, was selected along with the Boeing group by NASA in 2014 to develop the next generation of space vehicles for U.S. astronauts, after the end of the 1981-2011 space shuttle program. NASA's Commercial Crew program is also relying on a separate Boeing Co. spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner, which continues preparatory work for an unmanned trip to the space station slated for no earlier than April.

Once the Dragon reached a safe distance, NASA's Mission Control in Houston radioed its congratulations to SpaceX's team, the station's crew and partners around the world.

NASA and SpaceX reported the deorbit burn was nominal, and Dragon closed its nosecone to prepare for reentry. NASA said the toy would be brought back to Big Earth when two NASA astronauts - Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken - fly on Demonstration Mission 2 to the space station.

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This week's flight wasn't the first time that a SpaceX spacecraft has visited the ISS, but it is the first time that one of its capsules docked itself with the orbital outpost.

"Our Commercial Crew Program is one step closer to launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil".

Should that mission go well, the next flight of the Crew Dragon will include humans. Historic aerospace company Boeing are also readying to fly to the ISS with their own capsule, dubbed "Starliner", in the coming months. The Starliner is created to touch down on land. The U.S. pays Russian Federation a handsome fee, hundreds of millions of dollars, every year to secure seats for NASA crew members who need to go into space. It was carrying about 400 pounds of supplies for the ISS and a space-suited dummy named Ripley, which is "fitted with sensors around the head, neck and spine to record everything an astronaut would experience throughout the mission". Its splashdown off the coast of Florida was the final test for SpaceX to prove it can safely deliver humans to space for NASA. 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.

At first blush, the performance of Dragon appears to have met or exceeded NASA's hopes for this flight to the International Space Station, including during the critical descent back to Earth Friday morning.

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